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Bills trade up with Browns, take Sammy Watkins

Sammy Watkins AP

In the first trade of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Bills moved up five spots with Cleveland to take Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins with the No. 4 overall selection.

The Bills paid a huge price to move up from No. 9. In addition to giving up the ninth pick, Buffalo surrendered its No. 1 selection in 2015, as well as a fourth-rounder in 2015, to take Watkins, regarded as one of the draft’s top offensive playmakers.

The Browns now have the No. 9 and No. 26 picks in Round One.

Watkins figures an immediate starter in a Bills receiving corps that already features Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods.

The Bills’ deal for Watkins is reminiscent of the Falcons move for wideout Julio Jones three years ago. The Falcons’ trade partner, as you may recall, was Cleveland, which added a 2012 first-round pick when trading out of the No. 6 spot.

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Lions finally expecting DeAndre Levy back on the field

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 19:  DeAndre Levy #54 of the Detroit Lions celebrates 24-23 win against the New Orleans Saints at Ford Field on October 19, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Greg Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

Before last season, the Lions signed DeAndre Levy to a four-year, $33.8 million contract. Since then, Levy has played in two games and missed 26 games with injuries.

But the Lions are finally looking to get some return on their investment: Levy has been practicing this week, and multiple reports out of Detroit indicate that this is the week the Lions are expecting him back on the field.

Whether Levy is 100 percent or not remains to be seen, but if he’s even close to the player he was in 2014, that would be a huge boost to the Lions’ hopes of making a playoff run. Levy played very well in 2014, which is why the Lions gave him that contract in 2015. All indications have been that the Lions still believe Levy can be a big contributor to their defense once he returns.

Having Levy on the field Sunday against the Bears would be some welcome good news for a Lions defense that played one of its best games of the season in last week’s win over the Saints. Things seem to be trending up with the defense in Detroit.

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Kyle Williams may miss Sunday’s game with back injury

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 30:   Kyle Williams #95 of the Buffalo Bills warms up before the game against the New England Patriots at New Era Field on October 30, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bills injury report brought some good news over the course of the week as wide receivers Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins were both practicing and in line to play in the same game for the first time since the second week of the regular season.

Nothing has changed on that front and coach Rex Ryan said Friday, via Mike Rodak of, that both wideouts are “ready to roll” for Sunday’s game against the Steelers. The big question mark now is whether defensive tackle Kyle Williams will also be in the lineup.

Williams wasn’t on the injury report on Wednesday or Thursday, but he did not practice on Friday after his back locked up on him on Thursday night. Ryan said he is “concerned” that Williams, who has been listed as questionable, will not be able to play.

That would be a boost to a Steelers offense that is coming off a strong game against the Giants and will be trying to lead the team to a fourth straight win as they push for the AFC North title.

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Ryan Mathews, Jordan Matthews questionable for Eagles

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 13: Jordan Matthews #81 of the Philadelphia Eagles walks on the field prior to the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field on November 13, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Falcons 24-15. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Eagles haven’t been officially eliminated from playoff contention yet, but they are more likely to spoil someone else’s playoff chances at this point than actually make it to the postseason themselves.

Their first chance to do that comes this Sunday when they face the Redskins, who need a win to snap a two-game losing streak that leaves their postseason hopes in a precarious position. The Eagles’ chances of making that happen will increase with a full complement of players on hand, something they didn’t have last week when running back Ryan Mathews and wide receiver Jordan Matthews missed their loss to the Bengals.

Both players have been listed as questionable to play this weekend. Mathews seems likely to play after full participation in practice all week and Matthews joined him at that level on Thursday after getting in a limited session on Wednesday.

Wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is also listed as questionable, but he missed the first two days of practice with an oblique injury so he may not be as good a bet to play as his teammates.

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Jerry Jones thinks he can talk Tony Romo into staying next year

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 24:  (L-R) Owner Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys talks with Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers before a game between the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on November 24, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones still suspects that Tony Romo will play an important role for his team on the field this season.

And Jones thinks he can talk Romo into coming back next year, even though many suspect Romo would rather go someplace else to finish his career as a starter.

“I do,” Jones said, via Gary Myers of the New York Daily News. “I think if I ask Tony to go with us on that and let’s try to win a championship, I think, yes, he will.

“Tony is investing in his teammates. Everybody understands while he’s excited to be part of the team and he’s excited for the team, that he’s dying inside not to be out there competing. I underline the words dying inside. There are plenty of examples where high profile quarterbacks didn’t go down gracefully and step off the field gracefully. Lots of example of it. It’s just hard for that kind for competitor to do that.”

But if Dak Prescott has truly turned Romo into the new Drew Bledsoe, and keeps the job forever, there’s always the possibility of injury. So Jones is glad that he has Romo now, and thinks he still may play a role this season.

“I think Romo is going to get his opportunity,” Jones said. “I don’t want it to happen. But I think he may get his opportunity to get us a Super Bowl. While that’s a mixed bag when I think about it — that means you don’t have Dak out there — but it means, what a story, one for the ages, if he’d step in there and this year help us win a Super Bowl on the field with his skill. That can happen here. We’re not talking about a bus driver out there. We’re talking about a guy who can go out there and move our team.”

Jones maintained that it was “my intention,” to keep Romo next year regardless. The fact he can’t re-do Prescott’s contract until after three seasons makes it easier from a salary cap standpoint, but keeping Romo happy with a backup role might be a hard sales job, for someone who lives to make big deals.


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Snow angel rule becomes the latest example of NFL ignoring its own rules

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 17:  An impression is left where a person layed down in the snow in Lafayette Park across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House February 17, 2015 in Washington, DC. The nation's capital area received 4-6 inches of snow overnight as Winter Storm Octavia effected public transportation and shut down the Federal Government.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) Getty Images

On the surface, it was refreshing to hear the league’s senior V.P. of officiating explain that certain types of celebrations on the surface of the playing field will be permitted, based on the discretion of the officials. At a deeper level, it’s troubling.

It’s troubling because the NFL’s rules as written prohibit any celebration on the ground, with the exception of going to the ground in prayer. Snow angels clearly aren’t permitted.

Unless they are.

In harmonizing the decision of the referee in one game to throw a flag for a snow angel and the referee in another game to refrain from doing so, Blandino necessarily admitted that the league has a method for enforcing its rules that ignores the language of the rules. Which is a problem, for reasons well beyond snow angels.

At a time when the NFL is periodically accused of making it up as they go, the notion that officials have the discretion to permit certain type of celebrations that violate the rules reinforces the idea that the rules only matter when the NFL want them to matter.

Which means that the language of the rules needs to be changed immediately — or that the discretion needs to be eliminated.

This isn’t about snow angels. It’s about any and all actions that, based on the rules, constitutes violations but that, based on the enforcement, aren’t categorized as violations.

That said, it’s encouraging that the league is allowing players to behave more like human beings and less like robots. That needs to happen not by the seat of the pants, but by the process of changing the rules.

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Panthers release Robert McClain

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 04:  Wide receiver Tyler Lockett #16 of the Seattle Seahawks can't hold on to a catch against cornerback Robert McClain #27 of the Carolina Panthers at CenturyLink Field on December 4, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Panthers have parted ways with veteran cornerback Robert McClain.

The team announced McClain’s release on Friday along with the return of linebacker Ben Jacobs, who played with the team from 2013-2015. He saw much of his time on special teams and the Panthers have a need in that area with David Mayo on track to miss Sunday’s game against the Chargers because of a concussion.

McClain joined the Panthers late last season and wound up as a starting cornerback in the playoffs after injuries to Charles Tillman and Bene Benwikere thinned out the team’s options in the secondary. He played 11 games and made six starts this season, but Carolina will go with younger options to play out the string.

McClain’s experience — he’s played 77 games over the course of his career — could put him line for another late arrival this year should any contenders suffer injuries at cornerback. Barring that, he’ll look for work come 2017 and won’t have to wait for the start of free agency to sign with a team.

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Muhammad Wilkerson: With tighter coverage, maybe we have more sacks

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 05:   Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts passes under pressure from  Muhammad Wilkerson #96 of the New York Jets in the first half during their game at MetLife Stadium on December 5, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

In the first game of the season, the Jets sacked Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton seven times.

They lost that game 23-22 on a late Mike Nugent field goal, but their effectiveness in dropping the quarterback seemed to bode well for the defense as well as the Jets’ chances of securing better results in the weeks to come. The results for the 3-9 team haven’t come and the Bengals game represented a high water mark for the pass rush.

They have 13 sacks in their other 11 games as opposing offenses have fared better than the Bengals. There have been a variety of reasons for their lack of sacks, including opposing teams getting rid of the ball quickly to negate the team’s defensive linemen. Muhammad Wilkerson, one of those defensive linemen said the secondary plays a role in that.

“Maybe a little tighter coverage and we get those sacks,” Wilkerson said, via “It works hand-in-hand. We can get to the quarterback, but like I said, if [the secondary] isn’t holding them for that one second, the ball’s out.”

Wilkerson said he wasn’t trying to push all the blame on the defensive backs and that the other defenders still need to get to the quarterback, but it’s been impossible to miss the drop in the quality of the play in the back end of the defense for the Jets this year. Restoring it will be on the long offseason to-do list for the Jets.

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Falcons bring receiver up from practice squad for injury cover

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 04:  Nick Williams #15 of the Atlanta Falcons is tackled by Kareem Jackson #25 of the Houston Texans after a catch in the second half at the Georgia Dome on October 4, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Falcons are sufficiently concerned about their wide receiver depth that they’re adding one today.

According to Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network, the Falcons are promoting Nick Williams from the practice squad.

Williams caught 17 passes and two touchdowns for them last year in 14 games, and having a known commodity offers some comfort this week.

With Julio Jones (toe) and Mohamed Sanu (groin) also missing time in practice this week, there’s clearly some concern about their status for Sunday’s game with the Rams, though they were previously optimistic about Jones.

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Witness: Will Smith was the aggressor

A supporter of Cardell Hayes holds signs outside Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, during a break in Hayes' murder trial in New Orleans, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. Hayes killed former NFL New Orleans Saints player Will Smith in a road rage incident, in which Smith's wife, Racquel Smith was also shot and wounded. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) AP

The man who shot and killed former Saints defensive end Will Smith is relying on the “stand your ground” defense. That defense got a boost on Thursday, via the trial testimony of Kevin O’Neal.

O’Neal, a friend of defender Cardell Hayes, testified that Smith was the aggressor. Pressed by a prosecutor regarding the reality that Smith’s family no longer has him in their lives, O’Neal reportedly became loud.

Did her husband bring [about] his own demise?” O’Neal said, via “I’m just asking. He attacked [Hayes] from the beginning to the end of that situation. At no point in time did I ever see [Hayes] irate or aggressive with anyone out there. At no point in time, my God’s honest truth, did I ever see [Hayes] get angry.”

O’Neal made his opinion clear:  “Before anyone was shot, Mr. Hayes was under attack as well as myself. Point blank period.”

The testimony from O’Neal, along with all other evidence that will be introduced, demonstrates the ugly, awkward task of reconstructing words, deeds, and emotions when attempting to determine whether a killing was justified under the “stand your ground” law. It’s one thing to support self-defense in the abstract; it’s another thing to determine whether self-defense actually occurred, or whether it’s being used as a safe harbor for criminal misconduct.

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John Greco likely needs Lisfranc surgery too, like his teammate

GREEN BAY, WI - OCTOBER 20:  John Greco #77 of the Cleveland Browns stands on the sidelines before the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on October 20, 2013 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Browns 31-13.  (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Browns have cycled through plenty of quarterbacks this year because of injuries, which is not unrelated to the injuries on their offensive line.

But at least they get to save on medical scooters.

Browns right guard John Greco said he likely has the same kind of Lisfranc injury that knocked Joel Bitonio out for the season. The only good news is he gets to use the same scooter Bitonio used while he awaits surgery. He’s going to see specialist Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte next week, and will likely have surgery then. The rehab could last a year, which could complicate next season as well.

“I know [fluky],” Greco said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Two in one year if that’s what it is. I would think it is [Lisfranc]. . . .

“It was weird. I was in the training room. He [Bitonio] rolled in, and they were like, ‘Hey, give that to John.’ It was crazy how it worked out. It’s hard for me to understand. It’s such a long recovery. But you’re out of the boot and you’re able to walk. But it’s like why does it take such a long time [to recover]?”

Greco started 12 games for the Browns this year, 10 at guard and two at center before being placed on IR. He’ll be replaced by former Arizona first-round pick Jonathan Cooper, who was claimed off waivers from the Patriots earlier this year.

The Browns have allowed 45 sacks this season, most in the league. So good luck, Robert Griffin III.

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Derek Carr’s performance throws MVP race open

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 8: Quarterback Derek Carr #4 of the Oakland Raiders is sacked by defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches #99 of the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium during the first quarter of the game on December 8, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images) Getty Images

Recently, the PFT Live question of the day focused on the MVP through 12 weeks of the season. And the winner was Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.

Now? Not.

With a 17-for-41 performance for only 117 yards (an average of a paltry 2.85 yards per attempt) in his team’s biggest game of the year to date, Carr will win the MVP award only if he chases last night’s debacle with stellar performances — and only if the other primary candidates collapse.

Benefiting from Carr’s backfire are Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and maybe even Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. For now, the race feels wide open, with Brady and Prescott arguably the closest thing to favorites.

Regardless, Thursday night confirmed that it can change quickly. At this point, it’s as much a process of elimination as it is confirmation, with the avoidance of a disastrous performance even more important than putting together a strong one.

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Doug Whaley on Tyrod Taylor: We will look at the entire season

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 04:  Tyrod Taylor #5 of the Buffalo Bills looks to pass against the Oakland Raiders during their NFL game at Oakland Alameda Coliseum on December 4, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s future in Buffalo has been a frequent topic of conversation this week.

When Bills coach Rex Ryan discussed Taylor’s play and future with the team on Monday, he said “let’s just let this play out” before correcting course a bit on Wednesday and calling Taylor, who has seen his numbers decline in several key areas from last season, an “outstanding quarterback.” Taylor faced his own questions on that front on Wednesday and cut the session with reporters short after saying criticism of his play “doesn’t affect me emotionally or physically.”

It was General Manager Doug Whaley’s turn on Friday. During an appearance on WGR 550, Whaley’s response sounded a lot like Ryan’s initial comment about taking everything into consideration.

“You got to look at the whole season,” Whaley said, via “He’s got four more games to write this chapter. And then after this season, like everybody on the team, we’re going to do the evaluation, and we’ll go from there. But this season is one of those things where he’s done some things really good to get us to six wins. But just like everybody on the team, there are some plays that he wishes he could do over.”

The Bills have to make a decision about whether to give Taylor more than $30 million over the next two seasons early in the next league year, which makes the evaluation of where he is a crucial one for the franchise. They also need to confirm that Ryan and Whaley will be the ones making that evaluation, something that the next four weeks are also likely to impact.

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Derek Carr wont blame pinky finger for performance

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 08:  Quarterback Derek Carr #4 of the Oakland Raiders walks off the field after the Raiders failed to make a first down during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on December 8, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

Derek Carr wasn’t going to blame the weather, and he wasn’t going to blame his messed-up finger.

Mostly, he blamed himself, which seems like the most accurate thing about his night.

The Raiders quarterback turned in one of his worst games as a pro in last night’s loss to the Chiefs, at a time when many were touting him as an MVP candidate. Carr was a dreadful 17-of-41 passing for 117 yards, with no touchdowns. He didn’t throw a pick either, but that 49.1 passer rating was indicative of his night.

It was definitely a bad night, no way of getting around that,” Carr said, via Scott Bair of “I hate to have a bad night coming on this one, out of all the games we’ve had. Obviously, we didn’t do enough.

“I feel very responsible for that because of being the leader of the offense and the team. I feel sick to my stomach when we put something like that out there on film. It hurts, I can promise you that. I put too much time into this to go do something like that.”

Carr is still feeling the effects of the dislocated right (throwing) pinky finger, which couldn’t have helped in frigid conditions, but he didn’t want to use that as an excuse.

“It definitely wasn’t the finger’s fault,” Carr said. “Everything about tonight was unusual, to be honest. To have our defense step up for us and make plays, and for us to go out there and not execute, do things we don’t do. . . . That’s why it’s frustrating. That why I promise you I’m not worried.

“We played awful. It wasn’t good enough, but I’m not worried because I know the guys in the locker room. I’m not worried one bit, but it just sucks. We have to take it. We have to take the punch, but I’m not worried. I think we’re going to bounce back.”

If they’re going to, they’re going to have to have Carr return to the way he was playing, in practically every other game this season.

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Friday morning one-liners

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 24:   Jason Witten #82 of the Dallas Cowboys warms up on the field prior to the game against the Washington Redskins at AT&T Stadium on November 24, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bills could have wide receivers Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins on the field at the same time for the first time since Week Two.

Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph isn’t happy with how his unit played last weekend.

Patriots TE Martellus Bennett promised a better outing than he had last week.

C Nick Mangold may have played his final snap for the Jets.

Ravens TE Dennis Pitta expects the Patriots to pay a lot of attention to him.

The Bengals are moving T Cedric Ogbuehi back to the left side.

Browns G John Greco may need foot surgery.

The Steelers may not have DT Javon Hargrave this weekend.

The Texans hope to do a better job in run defense against the Colts.

Colts LB Trent Cole wasn’t sure he’d play again after his back injury.

The Jaguars kick coverage will need to be good against the Vikings.

Resting during the bye week helped Titans RB DeMarco Murray’s toe injury.

Run defense will be big for the Broncos this weekend.

Chiefs RB Charcandrick West wore a t-shirt honoring the late Joe McKnight under his jersey on Thursday night.

Thursday night was a bad time for Raiders QB Derek Carr’s hot streak to end.

A strong season has erased some doubts about Chargers CB Casey Hayward.

It’s time for Cowboys TE Jason Witten to start a new catch streak.

The Giants will have to come up with a way to deal with DE Jason Pierre-Paul’s absence.

An upgrade at wide receiver is needed for the Eagles.

Said Redskins DL A.J. Francis of picking No. 69, “I chose 69 because I wore 96 in college, and 96 was taken here. Everywhere I’ve been, when 96 was taken I got 69. Also because I’m big and nasty. That’s why I wear 69. That’s the truth.”

The Bears like the way RB Jordan Howard has progressed over his rookie season.

Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter wants better production in the red zone.

Sunday brings a chance for Packers RB Christine Michael to see his former Seahawks teammates.

The Vikings look forward to having PR Marcus Sherels back in the lineup.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn cited CB Robert Alford’s speed when discussing reasons for his contract extension.

A look at what the future might hold for some of the older members of the Panthers.

FB John Kuhn has found a role in the Saints’ running and passing games.

Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter won’t try to downplay the importance of this Sunday’s game.

Some of Cardinals RB David Johnson’s predecessors evaluated his performance this season.

Rams CB Trumaine Johnson was a big Monopoly fan during college.

49ers coach Chip Kelly said the York family were “godsends” for their response to his father’s death.

Snow is on Seahawks QB Russell Wilson’s mind with a trip to Green Bay coming this weekend.

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Goodell says “tremendous support” in London justifies four games

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on stage during an NFL Fan Rally at the NFL House in Victoria House, in London, Saturday Oct. 22, 2016. Los Angeles Rams are due to play the New York Giants at Twickenham stadium in London on Sunday in a regular season NFL game. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland) AP

The NFL has officially announced what was previously reported, that there will be four regular-season games in London next season. And NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is giving no hint that the league might slow down on its plans to continue growing the game in England.

“We continue to be incredibly excited by the passion and love for the NFL shown by our millions of UK fans,” Goodell said in a statement. “London is an amazing city. We have had tremendous support from our fans, from Mayor Khan and other government leaders and business partners, and we are looking forward to taking the next step in the UK by playing four games in London next season.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said in a statement distributed by the NFL that he’s hoping the league will eventually put a team in London on a permanent basis.

“London is the international home of the NFL and staging the equivalent of what would be half an American football team’s home games in the city is a huge step towards my ambition of bringing a franchise to the capital,” Khan said.

The 2017 season will be the first to have four games in London. The NFL first played a regular-season game in London in 2007 and had one regular-season game there every year through 2012. In 2013 the NFL expanded to two games in London, and for the last three years the league has played three games in London.

The league has not announced any specific games that will be played in London next season, but it is expected that the Jaguars’ “home” game against the Ravens will be in London. The Rams are also expected to give up a home game to play in London.

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