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Cardinals draft athletic quarterback Logan Thomas

Shayon Green, Logan Thomas AP

The first quarterback off the board on Day Three of the NFL draft is Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech.

Thomas went to the Cardinals in the fourth round, with the 120th overall pick.

In Arizona, Thomas will do exactly what he needs to do: Get some time to sit behind Carson Palmer while he learns to play the quarterback position at the professional level. Thomas has a strong arm, good size and is a phenomenal athlete, but he has major problems with accuracy and decision making, and he’s not ready to start in the NFL right now. In fact, there’s even been talk that he should move to tight end in the NFL because he struggles so much as a passer.

In the fourth round, however, he is a low-risk, high-reward player for the Cardinals. Coach Bruce Arians will get a chance to mold him into a quarterback of the future, while he begins his career as the backup to Palmer.

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Case Keenum looks like the Texans’ starter, by default

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The Texans have no good options at quarterback this week, as injuries have already cost them their original starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, their second starter Ryan Lindley, and their third starter Tom Savage. So who will their fourth starter be?

It looks like Case Keenum, by default. Although Texans coach Bill O’Brien may not announce whether it’s Keenum or Thad Lewis until Sunday, Jason La Canfora of CBS reports that there’s every expectation Keenum will be the guy.

The difference between Keenum and Lewis is that Keenum, who initially signed with the Texans as an undrafted free agent in 2012, has been with the Texans and spent the whole offseason learning coach Bill O’Brien’s offense. Lewis arrived in Houston less than a month ago and doesn’t have as much time in the system.

Either way, the Texans will struggle against a good Baltimore defense. They’ll just hope Keenum is the better option of the two not-so-good options they have.

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Derek Anderson tries to rebuild bridge he napalmed

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

At a time when former Cleveland quarterbacks seem to be lining up to rip the Browns, one of them is trying to be polite.

At least, now.

Panthers backup Derek Anderson — who might have to start Sunday if Cam Newton can’t — did his best to backpedal from previous inflammatory words about his stint with the Browns.

I’ve moved on from it,’’ Anderson said, via David Newton of ESPN.com. “I’m focused on us.’’

Of course, that’s a far cry from his parting words for the Browns after he was released, when he said the city “didn’t deserve a winner.’’

“I will never forget getting cheered when I was injured,’’ Anderson said then. “I know at times I wasn’t great. I hope and pray I’m playing when my team comes to town and [we] roll them.’’

Of course, since he might have to play them this week, he stepped back from the napalm he was dropping on bridges then.

“The whole situation and how the whole thing went down in the last few months wasn’t great,” Anderson said yesterday. “I said some things I regret saying when I left.

“But it’s over with, I’ve moved on. I’m happy. I wasn’t in a great place when I left. I’m in a lot better place now.”

Anderson went to the Pro Bowl as a Brown in 2007, going 10-5 as a starter. They haven’t sniffed that kind of production since, and are now floundering about with Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel.

Longing for the days of Derek Anderson might speak to the futility that is being a Browns fan, especially considering he might not even start against them this weekend.

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PFT Live: Bears talk with John Mullin, Week 16 picks

Chicago Bears v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

The Bears are making a big change to their offense this weekend.

Jay Cutler is out at quarterback less than a full season after signing a fat new extension with the team and former Panther Jimmy Clausen will start for the team against the Lions on Sunday. John Mullin of CSN Chicago will join Mike Florio on Thursday’s edition of PFT Live to discuss the reasons for the move, what the expectations for Clausen should be and what it all means for the future of coach Marc Trestman and the organization as a whole.

The Bears will be in Detroit for that matchup with the Lions and we’ll see what Florio and MDS think will happen in that game during their weekly meeting to pick the winners of every game on the schedule.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Antrel Rolle wants to play three more years with Giants

Washington Redskins v New York Giants Getty Images

Safety Antrel Rolle is coming to the end of the five-year contract that he signed with the Giants as a free agent in 2010 and he’s hoping that it isn’t the end of the line for his run with the organization.

Rolle wants to return to the Giants in 2015 and would like to play three more seasons before ending his career as a member of the team. Rolle, who turned 32 this week, said that he thinks the 2015 season is “going to be wonderful” for the Giants and doesn’t think that his age would stop him from contributing to their rebound effort.

“I have never worried about age. You can put me up against any 32-year-old,” Rolle said, via NJ.com. “Age has never been a factor to me. These coaches will tell you I don’t take days off, even in practice. Other players can take age and use it as whatever they want to use it as, but I know myself.”

There aren’t a lot of starting safeties in the league older that Rolle, which makes for a limited number of comps to test him against. Even with some slippage this year, Rolle has been a solid player for the Giants over the life of the contract and the team may opt to look for an upgrade at the other safety spot while bringing Rolle back.

Forecasting how things will play out is difficult at this point, though. The Giants have issues to sort out with their coaching staff, including defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, and money always plays a role in where a free agent winds up playing so there’s a lot to sort out before we find out if Rolle will return for a sixth season in New Jersey.

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Steelers want crowd to be loud on Sunday

Steelers Getty Images

With the playoffs on the line, the Steelers need Heinz Field to be a-rockin’ when the Chiefs come a-knockin’.

As Pittsburgh prepares to host Kansas City in a venue that typically provides a strong home-field advantage, the Steelers hope to avoid a repeat of ugly home losses to the Buccaneers and the Saints.  To keep that from happening, the team wants the fans to make plenty of noise happen.

The team’s official website has collected various player quotes regarding the importance of fans getting loud and staying loud in the final two games of the regular season.

“We just need the Terrible Towels going crazy,” cornerback William Gay said.  “Hopefully we make them wave their arms all game.  I need it to be rocking.  Sometimes you see Heinz Field kind of shaking and that’s what we need this week.”

“We took care of our business on the road the last two weeks and now to go into these next two games with our fans behind us it’s going to give us so much more of a boost,” tackle Marcus Gilbert said.  “The stadium is going to be rocking this week. We are excited to play in front of the great fans we have.  The teams we are playing are in the hunt along with us.  It’s going to be a playoff atmosphere.  It’s going to be alive.  I expect to see the stadium rocking on Sunday.”

The Steelers have won four of six homes games this season.  Two of the wins came three points and seven.  The other two were blowouts fueled by six-touchdown/no-pick performances from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Wins on Sunday against the Chiefs and next Sunday against the Bengals will propel the Steelers to a division crown that few predicted.  The fans realize that.  Which means they’ll be loud.  Unless of course the Week 17 game is flexed to Sunday night.

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Oregon star suffers knee injury, school paid for his draft insurance

ifo AP

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, an Oregon cornerback with the talent to be a first-round draft pick, has suffered a serious knee injury that will keep him out of the college football playoff and may significantly impact his draft stock. But Ekpre-Olomu did something wise before the season, something every prospect who returns to school should do: He got Oregon to pay for an insurance policy that could pay him up to $3 million if he slides in the draft.

According to ESPN, Ekpre-Olomu has a loss of value insurance policy, which has been paid for by the University of Oregon. Schools are increasingly paying for such insurance for players who are likely to be high draft picks but choose to return to college anyway.

The policy will pay Ekpre-Olomu if he is not a first-round pick and will pay an increasing amount the further he falls in the draft, up to $3 million if he makes it past the start of the third round. The precise details are not known, but suffice to say that Ekpre-Olomu has some assurance that this injury will not cost him a fortune.

Texas A&M offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi also got his school to pay for a similar insurance policy for him, and that’s something that all top prospects should demand if they’re going to return to school. And if you’re a draft prospect whose school won’t pay for an insurance policy, that’s a pretty good indication that you should turn pro.

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Derek Carr would love to see Tony Sparano return in 2015

Tony Sparano, Derek Carr AP

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr hasn’t finished his first year in the NFL, but he’s already played for two head coaches.

He’d be happy if the Raiders decided not to make it three once the regular season came to a close. Carr was asked Wednesday if he’d like to see Tony Sparano make the move from interim head coach to permanent head coach.

“Yeah, we love him. He’s our leader. Absolutely. We love him. Obviously, those decisions are going to happen, and we have no control in that. Those decisions will be made, and whoever is here is who we’ll play for,” Carr said, via the Bay Area News Group. “The fact that I don’t know what’s going to happen, that’s hard. But right now I’m focused on playing my heart out for him because I love him. I love him to death, I love playing for him. He pushes the heck out of me, and I love it. That’s how I like to be coached.”

Keeping the Raiders engaged, something they’ve appeared to be while winning two of their last four games, should help Sparano land on his feet if the ax does fall, but it probably isn’t going to be enough to keep it from falling once the Raiders offseason gets underway.

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Michael Vick has nearly paid off his bankruptcy debt

Michael Vick AP

Jets quarterback Michael Vick paid his debt to society when he spent time in federal prison for his conviction on dog fighting charges.

Now, he’s paid back most of the rest of the debt he accumulated.

According to Darren Rovell of ESPN, Vick has paid back most of the $18 million he owed to creditors when he filed for bankruptcy in July 2008.

Vick has been able to pay them back by living on a budget of $300,000 per year, which seems luxurious except he’s made more than $49 million from the Eagles and the Jets over that span. (OK, that still sounds luxurious).

“I feel blessed because I came out and found myself in a position where I had a lot of people that really believed in me, people who gave me an opportunity,” Vick said. “At the time, it wasn’t about trying to fulfill all the bankruptcy needs. I was trying to fulfill all the needs that I had in my life because I had nothing.”

“I had never been on a budget before, so I had to pay attention to everything that I was doing. Now I realize that I don’t need certain things I bought back in the day, like a new boat.”

Vick’s financial discipline — even if a little late — should be commended, as he could have chosen a form of bankruptcy which would have allowed him to avoid most of his debts.

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Julian Edelman dealing with a concussion

Julian Edelman, Reshad Jones AP

Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman was a limited participant in the team’s practices last week because of a thigh injury, but he played all the way through the team’s victory over the Dolphins last Sunday without showing any sign of difficulty because of injury.

That was also the case when he spoke to the media after the game, but Edelman did pick up another knock at some point between the start of that game against the Dolphins and the end of practice on Wednesday. Edelman was listed as a limited participant again on Wednesday, but he was listed with both a concussion and a thigh injury on the team’s injury report.

Players going through evaluation for a concussion typically don’t meet with the media, so it seems unlikely that Edelman was diagnosed with a concussion at that point. Symptoms don’t always appear right away, however, and there’s a chance he suffered the concussion at practice, although, as Phil Perry of CSNNE.com points out, the Patriots were in shells and sweats on Wednesday.

Whenever Edelman was injured, he’ll need to pass through the concussion protocol before he’s allowed into the lineup for a game. That leaves it as a waiting game to find out if Edelman will be in the lineup as the Pats try to clinch at least a first-round bye against the Jets in Week 16.

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Harbaugh took less than Michigan offered in 2011

Harbaugh Getty Images

For those who believe 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh wouldn’t use his alma mater as leverage for his next job, here’s perhaps conclusive evidence that he would.

He already has.

In 2011, Harbaugh rejected an Ann Arbor offer that would have paid him $5.2 million annually.  Instead, he took $5 million per year from the 49ers, who originally hoped to get Harbaugh for $4 million to $4.5 million per year.  Without the Michigan offer, it would have been difficult for Harbaugh to shake $5 million per year from the Niners.

This time around, Harbaugh has $8 million per year in hand from the Wolverines.  That may not get him more than $8 million from the Raiders or whoever, but it will prompt the Raiders or whoever to cough up more than they had hoped to pay.

Is he worth it?  Ultimately, we’re all worth whatever someone will pay.  But in an industry with a finite number of positions and no coaches union, it’s easy for ownership to set a market that keeps coaches from getting fair value in relation to their direct impact on winning and losing.  Rarely if ever does a head coach have the opportunity to blow the curve; Harbaugh has a chance to do it, thanks to Michigan’s ongoing willingness to extend offers that ultimately will be rejected.

In this case, it would be a major surprise if Harbaugh doesn’t ultimately reject the Michigan offer.  It’s widely believed that Harbaugh, who has never coached outside of California, wants to stay there.  Unless the Stanford, Cal, USC, or UCLA jobs open up soon, the Golden State options are coach the Raiders or the 49ers or no one.

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So who would trade for Jay Cutler?

Cutler Getty Images

Has Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had a bad season?  Sure.  Does it still make him a lot better than plenty of starting quarterbacks elsewhere in the league?  Absolutely.

By benching Cutler for the last two games, the Bears are essentially ensconcing him in bubble wrap for the balance of the year.  The obvious goal is to trade him to another team that would inherit the obligation to pay Cutler a fully-guaranteed base salary of $15.5 million in 2015.

So who would trade for Cutler?  Glad you asked.  (Even if you didn’t.)

Before considering the teams, keep in mind that each NFL coach tends to believe that he can get more out of a player than any other NFL coach ever did.  Many of the current NFL coaches don’t have quality quarterbacks; those who don’t have a franchise quarterback are always looking for one.  Cutler has shown that he has the ability to be one.  Otherwise, the Bears wouldn’t have paid him $22.5 million for 2014.

Also, keep in mind that, as usual, the free-agent quarterback class will have no obvious star options.  The draft class doesn’t have many/any sure things.

The Bills, who don’t have a first-round draft pick to use on a quarterback, have Kyle Orton and EJ Manuel.  Is Cutler better than either of them?  Yes.

The Jets need a quarterback, and they may not be in position to take Marcus Mariota.  Given his history, Jameis Winston may not be the ideal major-market face of the franchise, except for the folks who own the tabloids.  Cutler and the New York media would also be a potentially combustible mix for different reason, but Cutler may be a better option than anything the Jets can find.

The Browns may decide they need a quarterback.  Is Cutler an upgrade over Johnny Manziel?  Based on what we say last Sunday, yes.

The Texans, who turned up their noses at Peyton Manning nearly three years ago, desperately need to improve at the position.  Cutler is clearly better than any option the Texans have.

The Titans perhaps make the most sense, given that Cutler played college football at Vanderbilt.  And given that the Titans currently are irrelevant.  And that their current quarterbacks are not good.

Cutler’s history with the Broncos and his rebel-without-a-care attitude could make him an ideal Raiders quarterback, but for the promise shown by Derek Carr.  Still, maybe the next coach/G.M. would be interested in rolling the dice in the short term on a guy who could become another Jim Plunkett for the franchise.

In the NFC, fewer obvious options emerge.  Washington seems to be committed to giving Robert Griffin III one more try.  The Bucs likely wouldn’t be interested, given coach Lovie Smith’s Chicago experiences with Cutler.

The sticking point could be compensation.  Any team interested in Cutler will know that the Bears want to unload his contract, and that they can only do it by trading him.  It means that the Bears should be willing to essentially give him away, if need be.

The fairest outcome could be to tie 2016 draft picks to Cutler’s performance in 2015.  If he plays at a high level, the new team gives up more.  If he performs like he did in 2014, maybe the new team gives up nothing.

Or maybe the Bears tie a draft pick to Cutler in order to get someone else to take on the contract.  It sounds ridiculous on the surface, but the Bears can do a lot more with that $15.5 million in cash and cap space than they could do with a low-round draft pick.

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Chuck Pagano: It will take all hands on deck to contain Dez Bryant

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The Cowboys were in prime time last Sunday night, which means that the eyes of the football world were squarely on Philadelphia when wide receiver Dez Bryant caught three touchdown passes in a victory over the Eagles.

His performance didn’t escape the notice of Colts coach Chuck Pagano, whose team travels to Dallas this Sunday. Pagano said that he’s expecting to see running back DeMarco Murray on Sunday despite Murray’s hand surgery earlier this week, but he knows he’ll see Bryant and that it will “take all hands on deck” to contain a player who scares the Indianapolis head man.

“He’s a nightmare. He’s one of the most competitive guys that we’ve seen,” Pagano said, via the Cowboys website. “He’s a great talent. He’s a great player. He’s a combination of size, athleticism and speed. But his competitive nature and his drive and his passion for the game and for his team and for winning is second to none. The guy’s a monster.”

Cornerback Vontae Davis figures to get a heavy dose of Bryant during Sunday’s game and they’ll need him to do a better job than Bradley Fletcher did last weekend if they’re going to keep the Cowboys from taking another step toward a division title.

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PFT’s Week 16 picks

Cardinals Getty Images

All MDS wanted was a chance.  Maybe he should have been more careful about what he wished for.

Down five games with 32 games left and his ability to close the gap hinging on the existence of enough disagreements between the two of us, we disagree on five games this week.

So, in theory, he can pull off a five-game sweep and pull even for the Week 17 push to the finish line.

Last week, he nailed 12 of 16 picks.  But his decision to predict an Eagles sweep coupled with my decision to trust the Cowboys put me at 13-3.

For the season, I’ve moved to 150-74 (66.9%).  MDS is 145-79 (64.7%).

Titans at Jaguars

MDS’s take: In one of the worst games the NFL has ever put on prime-time television, I think the Jaguars will show that they’re still playing hard late in the season, while the Titans have given up.

MDS’s pick: Jaguars 20, Titans 10.

Florio’s take:  The Jaguars are favored for the first time in more than 40 games.  And for good reason.  The Titans stink.

Florio’s pick:  Jaguars 17, Titans 13.

Eagles at Washington

MDS’s take: The Eagles are in a precarious position in the NFC playoff race, and I don’t think they’re going to make it. But I also don’t think they’ll lose to a reeling Washington team.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 20, Washington 10.

Florio’s take:  Philly has a very real chance at winning the division, since the Cowboys have a very real chance at losing to the Colts and opening the door for a Week 17 win-and-in for the Eagles.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 27, Washington 17.

Chargers at 49ers

MDS’s take: The 49ers are done, while the Chargers still have slim playoff hopes. That’s enough to make me think the Chargers will come out motivated and the 49ers will not, so I’m taking San Diego.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 27, 49ers 17.

Florio’s take:  The 49ers are playing for pride.  The Chargers are playing for a postseason berth they ultimately won’t be able to earn, given the broken collarbone suffered by Keenan Allen.  As players begin to realize that an era is ending, they’ll find a way to win at least one of the final two for the coach who nearly took the team to three straight Super Bowls.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 24, Chargers 20.

Browns at Panthers

MDS’s take: Johnny Manziel can’t possibly be any worse against the Panthers than he was against the Bengals, but I don’t think he’ll be a whole lot better, either. The Browns’ once-promising season will take another hit, while the Panthers will stay in contention in the NFC South.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 24, Browns 10.

Florio’s take:  Johnny Manziel will be better this week; he can’t be any worse.  But that won’t be enough to turn around a team that has gone into a characteristic free fall.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 23, Browns 10.

Lions at Bears

MDS’s take: The Bears have quit on the season, which means the Lions will get an easy win to clinch a playoff spot.

MDS’s pick: Lions 30, Bears 13.

Florio’s take:  And the Bears still haven’t had a true franchise quarterback since Sid Luckman.  The Lions continue to move toward the postseason.  The Bears continue to move toward seismic changes.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 31, Bears 13.

Ravens at Texans

MDS’s take: The Ravens haven’t clinched anything yet, but I think they’re going to make the playoffs and be a dangerous team when they get there. I like Baltimore to win easily on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 34, Texans 10.

Florio’s take:  The Ravens have run out of cornerbacks.  The Texans have run out of quarterbacks.  Advantage, team with no cornerbacks.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 24, Texans 14.

Vikings at Dolphins

MDS’s take: The Dolphins collapsed in their biggest game of the season last week, while the Vikings have played hard despite being long since eliminated from playoff contention. I’m tempted to pick Minnesota in an upset, but I just don’t think Teddy Bridgewater is quite ready to have a mistake-free game against a good defense, and so I’ll take Miami in a close one.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 17, Vikings 10.

Florio’s take:  It’s unclear whether coach Joe Philbin will return to the Dolphins next year, but it won’t hurt to finish strong.  Enter the Vikings, who have shown plenty of fight in a lost season but who don’t have the talent to overcome a Miami team that still has a little something to play for.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 24, Vikings 17.

Falcons at Saints

MDS’s take: Someone has to win the NFC South, and I still think the best bet is the Saints, who are not a very good team but should be able to put up good numbers on offense against a lousy Atlanta defense.

MDS’s pick: Saints 31, Falcons 28.

Florio’s take:  With or without Julio Jones lining up for Atlanta, the Saints reverse a bizarre trend that has seen them lose four straight games at home.  Maybe, just maybe, a 7-9 Saints team will host an 11-5 Seahawks franchise, four years after the roles were reversed.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 31, Falcons 20.

Patriots at Jets

MDS’s take: It wouldn’t shock me to see the Jets come out fired-up in Rex Ryan’s last game against the rival Patriots. The Jets could very well take an early lead. But over four quarters they just don’t have the firepower to keep up with New England.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 20, Jets 10.

Florio’s take:  When hired by the Jets, Rex Ryan said he wasn’t going to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings.  In what likely will be their last meeting, Belichick will be kicking Rex’s ass one last time, for old time’s sake.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 41, Jets 13.

Chiefs at Steelers

MDS’s take: This is an intriguing game in the AFC playoff race, where the winner is likely to make it and the loser is likely to be home for the holidays. I think the Chiefs are going to go on the road and pull off an upset.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 24, Steelers 21.

Florio’s take:  The Steelers have lost at home to the Buccaneers and Saints.  Which makes the fact that the Steelers will be playing their last two games at home not necessarily a good thing.  But they’ve come this far and the division title is two victories away.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 27, Chiefs 17.

Packers at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: The Bills showed that a good defense can rattle Aaron Rodgers. The Buccaneers’ defense is not as good as Buffalo’s. The Packers will win to set up a Week 17 NFC North showdown with the Lions.

MDS’s pick: Packers 30, Buccaneers 13.

Florio’s take:  The Packers looked horrible in Buffalo.  They’ll have to look a lot more horrible to lose in Tampa, especially with a loss moving Green Bay toward missing the playoffs.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 34, Buccaneers 20.

Giants at Rams

MDS’s take: If the Rams were in any division other than the NFC West, they’d have a real shot at being a playoff team. St. Louis can’t get to the postseason, but it can get to 8-8 with two more wins, and one of those wins will come on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Rams 21, Giants 17.

Florio’s take:  Both teams hope to finish the season strongly.  The Rams are currently stronger than the Giants, despite a pair of victories by Eli and company.

Florio’s pick:  Rams 24, Giants 20.

Colts at Cowboys

MDS’s take: The Colts don’t have much to play for after wrapping up the AFC South last week, while the Cowboys have plenty to play for as they could still finish anywhere from first seed in the NFC to out of the playoffs entirely. And yet I have a funny feeling that Andrew Luck is going to exploit the holes in the Cowboys’ defense and put up big numbers in a Colts win.

MDS’s pick: Colts 30, Cowboys 20.

Florio’s take:  The Cowboys realize the stakes of this one; a win moves them closer to a division title and a loss could ultimately knock them out of the playoffs, again.  DeMarco Murray will play, Tony Romo will deliver, and the Cowboys will continue one of their most surprising seasons ever.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 34, Colts 23.

Bills at Raiders

MDS’s take: The Bills probably won’t make the playoffs even if they win out, but beating the Raiders will clinch Buffalo’s first winning record since 2004. This Bills team is making progress.

MDS’s pick: Bills 17, Raiders 10.

Florio’s take:  By beating the Packers, Doug Marrone may have saved his job for at least a year.  He could secure it for the rest of the decade by securing the team’s first playoff berth since 1999.

Florio’s pick:  Bills 24, Raiders 14.

Seahawks at Cardinals

MDS’s take: I admire the way the Cardinals have continued to find ways to win despite injuries taking a huge toll on the roster. But a Ryan Lindley-quarterbacked team just can’t beat a Seattle team that is playing at a Super Bowl level.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 24, Cardinals 6.

Florio’s take:  Common sense points to Seattle, a seven-point favorite facing a third-string quarterback who was on San Diego’s practice squad a little more than a month ago.  But I can already hear Bruce Arians telling reporters after the game how the players fed off the combined incentive of proving everyone wrong and seizing the brass ring that is home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.  Maybe I’m just a sucker for an underdog.  Maybe I’m stupid.  Maybe I’m a little tipsy.  Regardless, I’d rather be wrong by picking the Cardinals than wrong by making the obvious pick.

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 23, Seahawks 20.

Broncos at Bengals

MDS’s take: The good news for the Broncos is they’re showing they can win with defense and a good running game on offense. The bad news is that Peyton Manning’s numbers are way down, and the Bengals’ secondary is solid. Look for the Bengals to frustrate Manning and pull off a home upset.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 24, Broncos 20.

Florio’s takeAndy Dalton has a putrid record of 2-9 in prime-time and postseason games.  Make it 2-10.  The only good news is that he’ll possibly not have a chance to lose another playoff game.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 30, Bengals 20.

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Sen’Derrick Marks has 600,000 reasons to play hard tonight

Jacksonville Jaguars v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

For teams that are out of playoff contention, motivation might be hard to come by.

For many individual players, each game can be invaluable.

Jaguars defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks has a chance to earn an extra $600,000 tonight, if he can get half a sack in an otherwise unremarkable game against the Titans (a game featuring teams with a combined 4-24 record).

According to Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union, Marks had an incentive clause put in his contract last December which would pay him $600,000 if he collected 8.0 sacks. Since he had fewer than that (7.0) in his first five seasons, it seemed a reasonable inclusion.

But now he has 7.5 this year, making these last two games potentially more lucrative.

Once the game starts, I don’t think about it,’’ Marks said. ”If it happens, it happens. If it don’t it don’t. . . .

“I play within the scheme. Playing within the scheme has gotten me to this point so I won’t abandon the scheme just to be selfish.”

Marks would have already hit the mark, except for a scoring change. Two weeks ago against the Texans, he was credited for one when quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick fell down and he touched him first, but that was later changed.

“I didn’t think it was a sack when it happened,” he said. “I thought it was a running play. It [taking the sack away] won’t bother me.”

It might if he can’t get back on the board in the next two games.

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Report: Philip Rivers has significant back injury

Rivers Getty Images

For several weeks, questions have swirled regarding whether and to what extent Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is playing with injuries.  He could be playing with an injury that is bad enough that perhaps he shouldn’t be playing.

The Chargers recently acknowledged that Rivers has a back injury.  He missed practice Tuesday and Wednesday, critical sessions before a Saturday game against the 49ers, due to the injury.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the back injury is “more severe than the team has acknowledged.”

Technically, teams aren’t required to acknowledge the severity of any injury.  Teams simply must disclose on the thrice-weekly practice reports whether the player didn’t practice, practiced on a limited basis, or practiced fully with one or more injuries.  Once per week, the team must apply a label reflecting the player’s anticipated availability for the game.

In Rivers’ case, the fact that he actually missed practice due to the back injury suggests that it’s significant, given that he had missed no practices due to what teammate Antonio Gates told reporters was a “severe rib injury.”  (Gates later backtracked, predictably; the team eventually disclosed that Rivers has a chest injury.)

Rivers said Wednesday that he’ll play on Saturday.  Thursday’s final injury report before the Saturday night game will reveal plenty about whether Rivers will indeed be able to go.

Given that the guy once played a postseason game with a torn ACL and presumably has battled through plenty of other injuries to do his job, don’t be surprised to see him play.

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