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Preseason Power Rankings No. 26: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Lovie Smith AP

It’s possible that there wasn’t a team in the league that needed blowing up more than the Buccaneers last year.

They threw a lot of money at problems, and there never appeared to be any solutions, at least any Greg Schiano appeared capable of solving.

From a former first-round quarterback who lost his way to one of their highest-priced players never quite looking like himself, the Bucs were kind of a mess.

So they got a new coaching staff, a new quarterback, and a new sense of hope.

Strengths.

First off, the Bucs have upgraded their coaching staff.

The NFC South’s a loaded division from a coaching standpoint, and new boss Lovie Smith doesn’t have to take a back seat of any of his neighbors.

While he had his critics in Chicago, he kept a team consistently successful, and made a Super Bowl with something called Rex Grossman starting at quarterback. That merits some kind of lifetime achievement award, but Smith’s strength isn’t simply Xs and Os.

After the Schiano era, anyone is going to seem personable and relatable, but Smith has a calm, collected style borrowing from his mentor Tony Dungy, and the Bucs needed that.

The Bucs also have the makings of a very good defense, even by their own standards.

Gerald McCoy has emerged as a legitimate star, and with free agent pickup Michael Johnson coming over from the Bengals, they have a legitimate edge rusher to keep the pressure on.

With emerging star linbebacker Lavonte David and playmakers in the secondary in Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson, the Bucs have the kind of speed and explosiveness to match up with the varying brands of offenses in their own division.

Weaknesses.

There are reasons to look at their offense and hope, but it’s hard to know exactly what the Buccaneers are getting.

Bringing in quarterback Josh McCown lends a steady, respected veteran who is coming off a hot streak.

But his run of good form with the Bears (subbing for an injured Jay Cutler) might be hard to replicate without Marc Trestman, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.

With Vincent Jackson and first-rounder Mike Evans, the Bucs have some downfield targets, and second-round tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins could become one soon). But they’re still mixing the ingredients together under new coordinator Jeff Tedford, so they’re still an unknown commodity.

Their biggest problem is their offensive line, where they still can’t be sure what they’re going to get out of big investment Carl Nicks, and they’ve otherwise blown up the old line.

They added tackle Anthony Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith in free agency, but they’re shaky in the middle, and that might make it tough for everything to gel for a team building an offense from scratch.

Changes.

Oh, pretty much everything. That’s all.

A new General Manager (Jason Licht) and a new coach usually means a lot of turnover, but the rate at which the Bucs cleaned house was amazing.

They cut players (Darrelle Revis, Donald Penn, Davin Joseph), they traded players (Mike Williams, Jeremy Zutttah), and they held the door for most of their own free agents.

Considering the investments the previous regime made in some of those players, the change is dramatic, which should serve as a clear message to the few old guys who remain.

But while the incomings might lack some of the star power, and no islands are named after them, they bought in bulk.

The result could be a team with a drastically different look in 2014, but that was needed after going 4-12 twice in the previous three seasons.

It will be curious to see how former starting quarterback Mike Glennon responds to his benching in favor of McCown. If he develops into a legitimate starter, the Bucs have a chance to build something here around some young skill-position players.

Camp Battles.

With part of the money they didn’t give Revis for another year, the Bucs spent on Titans free agent Alterraun Verner.

But there should be some healthy competition opposite him, with former Cowboys first-rounder Mike Jenkins and 2013 second-rounder Johnathan Banks.

The other big mystery is right guard (and that’s assuming that Nicks gets back on the field).

Patrick Omameh worked there during offseason camps, but they also bright in veteran Oneil Cousins and could look to Jamon Meredith there as well. Nick’s health exposes a lack of depth in the middle, but they hope Dietrich-Smith lends some stability there.

They’ll also be looking for a reliable third receiver among an odd lot of contestants (from rookie Robert Herron to journeyman Louis Murphy), as well as a backup to running back Doug Martin as they hope to spread the carries a bit.

Prospects.

In another division, the Bucs prospects would be much brighter.

But for all the changes elsewhere, they’re battling against proven programs with recent success.

If McCown is able to maintain the kind of clean play he gave the Bears last year, they have a real chance to make strides. He has a respect level among players and an underrated athleticism, so there’s a chance he could make them stable.

That might be all they need, as Smith should make the defense better by scheme alone.

Schiano was overmatched in the pro game, and his lack of any kind of interpersonal skills made it worse. You can only play the Bill Belichick tough-guy act if you win, and Schiano never did.

Smith doesn’t have an act, he’s simply a good coach. That’s enough to make the Bucs better in a hurry.

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Muhammad Wilkerson hits Jets PUP list

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 06:  Muhammad Wilkerson #96 and Damon Harrison #94 of the New York Jets celebrate after defeating the New York Giants by a score of 23-20 at MetLife Stadium on December 6, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jets beat the clock to sign defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson to a five-year deal on July 15 in a move that came as a bit of a surprise given the general pessimism over the course of the offseason about a deal getting done.

While they had to rush to get Wilkerson signed, there will be no such hurry to get him back to a full practice schedule. Wilkerson suffered a broken leg in Week 17 and didn’t work out with the team in the spring while playing franchise tag tango, both of which likely contributed to the team’s decision to put him on the physically unable to perform list Thursday.

Wilkerson’s stay on the PUP list may not be long as he can be activated at any point this summer, but the Jets will likely exercise caution to ensure that he’s on the field to earn his money come September.

Left guard James Carpenter, right tackle Breno Giacomini, wide receiver Devin Smith (coming off a torn ACL), running back Khiry Robinson and defensive back Kendall James also landed on the PUP list.

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Jets cut punter to make room for Fitzpatrick

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 29:  Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the New York Jets looks on from the bench in the fourth quarter against the New York Giants during preseason action at MetLife Stadium on August 29, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jets officially signed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick Thursday, meaning the team needed to clear a spot on its 90-man preseason roster.

Rookie punter Tom Hackett was the player waived to make room for Fitzpatrick.

That means, at least for now, rookie Lachlan Edwards is the lone punter on the Jets’ roster. The Jets drafted Edwards in the seventh round last April.

At 6-foot-4, 209, Edwards is big for a punter and still learning the game. A former Australian Rules Football player, Edwards never picked up a football until 2012.

The Jets drafted Edwards after losing Ryan Quigley, their punter for the last three seasons, to the Eagles via free agency.

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49ers’ Kaleb Ramsey retires

SANTA CLARA, CA - MAY 23:  Kaleb Ramsey #60 of the San Francisco 49ers participates in drills during 49ers Rookie Minicamp on May 23, 2014 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

After two years and zero games, 49ers defensive tackle Kaleb Ramsey has announced his retirement.

Ramsey, a seventh-round pick of the 49ers in 2014, spent his rookie year on injured reserve and his second year on the practice squad.

“I want to thank Jed York, the York family, Trent Baalke and all the coaches and staff I have had the pleasure of working with over the last two years,” Ramsey said in a statement released by the team. “The 49ers took a chance on drafting me and made my NFL dreams come true. Unfortunately, my career has been cut short, as I have made the decision to step away from the game to concentrate on other priorities in my life. During my time in the Bay Area, I have seen how special the 49ers organization and its fans truly are, and that is something I will take with me as I move on.”

The 27-year-old Ramsey has a long history of injuries dating back to his college career at Boston College, where the NCAA granted him a very rare fifth and sixth year of eligibility because he was sidelined for so long. He was working on a master’s degree while on the practice squad last year and appears to be ready to embark on a new career.

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Jimmy Garoppolo “very excited” about chance to start

Green Bay Packers v New England Patriots Getty Images

The Patriots held their first practice of training camp on Thursday, which means we got our first chance to see how the team will be divvying up the reps at quarterback between Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo.

Mike Reiss of ESPN.com reports that it was an even split between the two quarterbacks during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills as the team begins the process of getting Garoppolo ready to start the first four games of the season. That will have to be balanced with getting Brady enough work to be sharp when he returns to the lineup after his suspension, something that coach Bill Belichick confirmed will happen on Wednesday.

That was a fairly obvious declaration and hasn’t stopped Garoppolo from being “very excited” about the chance to start.

“Yeah, it’s a great opportunity just like you said,” Garoppolo said in comments distributed by the team. “You have to go out there and take advantage of it. You don’t get many opportunities in this league, you might only get one, so you’ve got to make the best of it.”

If Garoppolo makes the best of his cameo in the starting lineup, it’s hard to believe that it will be the last of his opportunities to start in the NFL. Those future chances probably wouldn’t come in New England, but a strong showing in the first quarter of the season should make Garoppolo a hot commodity on the trade market come the offseason.

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Ravens rookie RB Kenneth Dixon tweaks knee at practice

HUNTINGTON, WV - DECEMBER 06: Kenneth Dixon #28 of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs carries the ball during the 2nd quarter against the Marshall Thundering Herd at Joan C. Edwards Stadium during the Conference USA championship game on December 6, 2014 in Huntington, West Virginia. The Thundering Herd defeated the Bulldogs 26-23. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Ravens got a brief scare from rookie running back Kenneth Dixon at Thursday’s practice, but his knee injury doesn’t appear to be one that will keep him out of action for long.

Coach John Harbaugh said that Dixon, a fourth-round pick in April who is competing to be part of the backfield mix along with Justin Forsett, will be back very soon from what Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports is a Grade 1 MCL sprain. Rapoport expects the Ravens to proceed with caution, which isn’t a surprise after wide receiver Breshad Perriman missed all of last season with a knee injury that was initially described as being on the minor side.

Dixon, Buck Allen, Terrence West, Lorenzo Taliaferro and Trent Richardson are on the roster as options behind Forsett, although the latter two are on the PUP list and Forsett says he plans to do what he can to make it a one-man show.

“I’m going to put myself in a position where they can’t take me off the field,” Forsett said, via CSNMidAtlantic.com. “That’s my mentality. At the end of the day, everybody has their role. I’ll let coach decide that.”

Dixon ran for 4,480 yards, caught 88 passes and scored 87 touchdowns overall at Louisiana Tech and could position himself to take some of Forsett’s snaps if those all-purpose skills translate to the professional level.

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New Triplets dominate NFL merchandise sales

GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 11:  Quarterback  Tony Romo #9 and  Dez Bryant #88 of the Dallas Cowboys react during the 2015 NFC Divisional Playoff game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on January 11, 2015 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images) Getty Images

For a team that hasn’t played in an NFC title game since 1995, the Cowboys continue to be extremely popular.

More than a generation after the trio of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin ruled the league as “the Triplets,” a new threesome of Cowboys skill-position players has emerged as marketing superstars. Regardless of the relative lack of on-field success.

From the NFLPA, via Gil Brandt of NFL.com, receiver Dez Bryant, quarterback Tony Romo, and running back Ezekiel Elliott are No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 on the top 50 list of total player sales from March 1 through May 31.

With Cowboys tight end Jason Witten just behind Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers at No. 4, Dallas owns 80 percent of the top five spots on the list.

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is No. 6, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has the No. 7 spot, and the rest of the top 10 (respectively) are Giants receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

The highest-ranking member of the defending NFL champions is linebacker Von Miller, at No. 24. He’s behind Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, who didn’t play at all last year.

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Vikings extend coach Mike Zimmer’s contract

Zimmer AP

The Vikings are about to move into a shiny new stadium, but they have another important piece of their future secured now as well.

The team announced that head coach Mike Zimmer’s contract has been extended.

They didn’t announce the time frame or the terms, but locking up their coach was a reward after an 11-5 record last year. He’s gone 18-14 in two seasons, and among Vikings coaches, only the late Dennis Green had more wins in his first two seasons (20).

“Mike has instilled a very positive atmosphere over the past three years and our players have thrived under his tutelage and leadership,” owner Zygi Wilf said in a statement. “His focus on helping our players develop and maximize potential, individually and collectively, is critical for our current and future success. We believe the continuity established with Mike leading our football team is a very positive step for our organization.”

Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman have solidified things in Minnesota, laying the groundwork for the future with a solid defense and running game, and an improving quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater who should keep them competitive for the near future.

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Damon Harrison starts first Giants camp on PUP list

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 03: Damon Harrison #94 of the New York Jets during warm ups before a pre-season game against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium on September 3, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images) Getty Images

Signing defensive tackle Damon Harrison was part of the Giants’ plan to remake their defense this season, but he isn’t quite ready to start practicing with the team.

The Giants announced Thursday that Harrison has been placed on the physically unable to perform list. Linebacker J.T. Thomas and defensive tackle Jay Bromley are also on the PUP list and all three players can be activated to regular status at any time.

Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News reports that Harrison is bothered by knee swelling while Thomas is battling a hamstring injury and Bromley has an ankle problem. Coach Ben McAdoo said that he doesn’t expect any of the three players to be out of action for long.

That’s good news for the Giants, who are expecting Harrison, defensive end Olivier Vernon and cornerback Janoris Jenkins to spearhead better days for their defense in 2016.

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John Fox: Leonard Floyd was sick, will be fine

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 10: Leonard Floyd #84 of the Georgia Bulldogs recovers a fumble an would return it 96 yards for a touchdown against the Tennessee Volunteers on October 10, 2015 at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

After Bears rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd was carted off the field at practice on Thursday, a league source told PFT that Floyd was “woozy” early in practice and his departure was related to that rather than a torn ACL or other injury that would have him joining wide receiver Kevin White as Bears first-rounders who missed their rookie seasons.

The word from the Bears is along the same lines. Coach John Fox said after practice concluded that Floyd has been sick for the last couple of days and that he wasn’t able to do as much as anticipated during the team’s practice session.

“He was sick,” Fox said, via Peggy Kusinski of NBC Chicago. “He tried to go. He’s a tough kid, just didn’t make it through.”

Fox said that the team thinks Floyd will be fine, which should lead to a lot of exhaling in the Chicagoland area.

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Leonard Floyd injury highlights Bears’ restrictive media policy

7d304396c1d67aa2ccf42ed11751585d Getty Images

Details are scarce regarding the injury suffered by Bears first-round linebacker Leonard Floyd during the team’s first training-camp practice, and for good reason. The team utilizes an unreasonably restrictive media policy that limits the ability of reporters to disclose specific injury information — even though fans attending practice can do whatever they want.

Multiple reporters have said Floyd was carted off. None have said why or what body part seemed to be injured. Apparently, they are deferring to the prohibition on tweeting injury specifics.

And so everyone (other than fans in attendance) will have to wait for coach John Fox to provide more information about the injury. Of course, Fox isn’t required to say anything, or to tell the truth when doing so, because injury-reporting obligations apply only when the first regular-season game approaches. In 2015, for example, the Bears actively concealed for weeks true and accurate information about the stress fracture that ultimately wiped out all of receiver Kevin White’s first-round pick.

Of course, it remains impossible to choke off the information completely. As one league source told PFT, Floyd was woozy in the “stretch” line, and it appears the incident was heat related.

Hopefully, sharing that won’t cause the Bears to yank my credential. The fact that I don’t have one makes that a bit less likely.

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Browns expect to name starting QB before first preseason game

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 26: Robert Griffin III #10 of the Washington Redskins looks on prior to the game against the Philadelphia Eagles on December 26, 2015 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Browns haven’t named their starting quarterback for the 2016 season, but it doesn’t sound like coach Hue Jackson plans to extend the competition too deep into August.

During a press conference on Thursday, Jackson said that “whoever earns the job is going to earn it on the field” and suggested that they’ll do it pretty soon.

“It’s going to show itself really quickly and it would definitely be before we play our first preseason game,” Jackson said.

Despite some reports of shaky play from reporters on the Browns beat, Robert Griffin III came out of the offseason workouts looking like he was in position to nab the starting job. That was followed by a report this week that Griffin will be taking 80 percent of the snaps with the first team in training camp.

Given the timeline that Jackson set down on Thursday, that points to Griffin being No. 1 in Cleveland and could lead to Josh McCown going on the move should the Browns feel comfortable with Cody Kessler and Austin Davis as backups.

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Browns say “grave disappointment” in Crowell, but he’s making necessary steps

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 3:  Isaiah Crowell #34 of the Cleveland Browns stiff arms Cameron Heyward #97 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the third quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on January 3, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

The since-deleted Instagram post showing a police officer’s throat being slashed made by Browns running back Isaiah Crowell was the first topic of conversation at the team’s pre-camp press conference on Thursday.

The public message from Browns coach Hue Jackson and executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown was that Crowell is taking necessary steps to make up for his mistake.

“It starts with grave disappointment in the action in the first place,” Brown said. “But to his credit, [after it happened] he called both Hue and I on his own to be accountable. Obviously, it was a huge mistake but he has taken steps at least at the outset that he should.”

Crowell quickly issued a formal apology, and the Browns released a statement that said “just an apology” would not be enough. Crowell later attended the funeral of one of the police officers killed in Dallas earlier this month and pledged his first game check to the Dallas fallen officers’ fund.

Jackson said he understands Crowell may deal with more backlash from fans as camp opens — “rightfully so,” Jackson said — but said Crowell will continue to work “at making it right” and showing remorse.

“I truly believe this is not who Isaiah Crowell is,” Jackson said.

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Washington could be in the veteran RB market later

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 13: Matt Jones #31 of the Washington Redskins runs in the 3rd quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Redskins defeated the Bears 24-21. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

Teams will use the early days of training camp to take a look at the kids they’ve collected. But as time wears on, some of them will realize they need to find some experience.

That could be the case in Washington, as coach Jay Gruden admitted they could be in the market for a veteran runner at some point, as they don’t have many proven commodities behind Matt Jones.

We could [look at free agents],” Gruden said, via Joon Lee of the Washington Post. “There are some guys who looked pretty good during minicamp. Chris Thompson is coming back and looked good. Obviously, Mack Brown was on the practice squad last year. Robert Kelley is the rookie free agent we picked up. Keith Marshall we’re excited about. We have some guys that we’re going to look out for.”

While you look up that list of names — and recall that Jones is coming off hip surgery and a year of fumbling problems — it’s worth pointing out that they let Alfred Morris walk this offseason and didn’t do anything to backfill there.

Once Arian Foster signed with the Dolphins, the market thinned quickly, with guys such as Bernard Pierce finding jobs.

If one of Gruden’s young backs doesn’t emerge during camp, they could be left to pick through the scraps later, as teams begin making cuts.

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Report: Lawrence Timmons, Steelers “not close” on extension

SAN DIEGO, CA - OCTOBER 12:  Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons #94 of the Pittsburgh Steelers takes part in pre-game warm ups before a game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on October 12, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images) Getty Images

Linebacker Lawrence Timmons is entering the final year of his contract with the Steelers and, thanks to his $15.1 million cap number, he looked like a possible candidate for an extension when the offseason opened.

The months went by without any change in Timmons’ status, however, and it doesn’t look like any change is imminent either. Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that the two sides are “not close” to a new deal and that the Steelers’ aversion to in-season negotiations would leave him on track for free agency if that remains the case.

Timmons told the team’s website that he is “willing to do whatever” to remain with the Steelers. With any desire to add cap space lessened at this point of the offseason, it seems part of what he’ll have to do is show the team that he has something left to give them over the course of the 2016 season.

Timmons was the Steelers’ first-round pick in 2007 and has been a fixture in the starting lineup since the 2009 season.

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Two years ago, Jaworski saw clear gap between Nick Foles and Russell Wilson

ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 13: Posters of quarterback Nick Foles #5 of the St. Louis Rams are seen in a trash cart outside of the St. Louis Rams locker room  prior to a football game against the Detroit Lions at the Edward Jones Dome on December 13, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images) Getty Images

Three years ago, ESPN’s Ron Jaworski cooked up one of the hottest takes of all time, taking the position that quarterback Colin Kaepernick could be one of the best quarterbacks of all time. Jaworski’s opinion somehow became news for his employer, feeding the four-letter network’s engine for several days in August 2013.

A year later, Jaworski offered up an even hotter — but far less memorable — take regarding quarterbacks Nick Foles and Russell Wilson. Given a choice between the two, which would he pick?

“I’m taking Foles,” Jaworski said. “Not even close. Russell Wilson is just . . . because of that system he is in. Russell Wilson plays with that defense, the best in football. He just managed the game very well. I think Russell Wilson has played terrific, a great maturity, but I’m going to take Nick Foles.”

Two years ago, plenty of you agreed with Jaworski. More than 22,000 responded to the poll question, and more than 43 percent picked Foles over Wilson. That number would be far closer to 4.3 percent now. Possibly even closer to .043 percent.

Wilson remains entrenched, and highly compensated, as a franchise quarterback in Seattle. Meanwhile, Foles is scouring depth charts for a place where he could be a camp arm at worst, the primary backup come September at best.

The fact that people with ties to Foles, like former Eagles coaches Andy Reid and Chip Kelly, aren’t clamoring to sign him suggests that things aren’t going to come as easily for Foles as they did the day he threw seven touchdowns and no interceptions against the Raiders.

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