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Preseason Power Rankings No. 10: Carolina Panthers

Dave Gettleman, Ron Rivera AP

There were points last season when it appeared time to start writing the obituary for Panthers coach Ron Rivera and the team built by former General Manager Marty Hurney.

Then Rivera’s team did a funny thing — they forgot how to lose.

The Panthers won 11 of their final 12 games last year, and only a loss to the 49ers in the playoffs spoiled an unpredictable run built on defense and a singular talent at quarterback.

Of course, they spent the offseason subtracting more than they added, cutting past fat into meat and bone to try to keep a good roster intact.

But that’s what they’re going to have to do for another year or so (when it’s time to pay the next wave of young stars), and they’ve done it well.

Strengths.

In quarterback Cam Newton, the Panthers have perhaps the best bail-out-a-play guy in the NFL.

It seems no play is over for Newton, who has matured as a passer while remaining dangerous as a runner. His ability in short-yardage helped spark last year’s belief that they could win, and his growth as a passer helped him make plenty of big plays through the air as well.

Newton will need to be incredible, because they took away most of his help (more on that in a moment). But he is incredible, and looks comfortable running an offense which is far from cutting-edge.

It doesn’t need to be complex it if works, and he’s reached what appears to be a good relationship with play-caller Mike Shula.

They also have what might be the best defensive front seven in the NFL.

They have a pair (for a year anyway) of double-digit sack ends, which only required using more than 20 percent of their cap to keep them.

Greg Hardy got the franchise tag after an impressive salary drive (7.0 of his 15.0 sacks came in the final two games), while overpaid-but-productive veteran Charles Johnson has been a steady presence (44.0 sacks the last four season) against the run and pass.

Paired with a interior that included 2013 top picks Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, and a group of linebackers led by Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, the Panthers can match personnel with anyone in the league.

It’s a front designed to take the pressure off a suspect back, but it did just that a year ago, succeeding without much pedigreed talent in the secondary.

Weaknesses.

As long as you spend so much on defensive ends, you’ve got to scrimp somewhere. So the fact they’re using temps in the secondary is nearly a non-issue.

What they’re doing without on offense is alarming.

The Panthers lost two of the five or six best players in franchise history when Steve Smith was cut and Jordan Gross retired.

Smith was cut for reasons that exceeded age and production, as all the wideouts who caught a pass last year are gone. If he wasn’t so much of a grouch, they’d have possibly let him ride off into the sunset next year, but they wanted to let Newton take control of the locker room as well as the huddle.

Instead, they signed just-a-guys Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant to play stable-pony for first-rounder Kelvin Benjamin.

A good running game (everybody’s healthy for a change) and tight end Greg Olsen take some of the pressure off this odd lot of guys to perform. Which is good, because that seems unlikely.

But for all the consternation about the receivers, what happened to their offensive line is worse.

They needed an upgrade from right tackle Byron Bell, but instead they’re letting him compete for the left tackle job along with converted defensive tackle Nate Chandler. They made a run at former Bengals tackle Anthony Collins in free agency, but otherwise did nothing to improve the team’s most glaring weakness in a post-Gross environment. They’ll find out in a hurry how much they miss Gross, which might make management re-think squeezing veterans into dramatic pay cuts in the future.

The middle of the line could be OK, with center Ryan Kalil there to help along a young group. If former second-rounder Amini Silatolu plays to his pre-injury form, they have a chance. Third-rounder Trai Turner is going to have a chance to win the right guard job, and might have the quickest path to the starting lineup of any of their rookies.

Changes.

Perhaps the biggest change for the Panthers was in Rivera himself.

Once a guy with a 2-14 record in games decided by a touchdown or less, Rivera started rolling the dice and it kept working.

It wasn’t just going for fourth downs (but that’s easier when you have a giant quarterback and a big fat fullback such as Mike Tolbert), there was a different air about the Panthers last season.

They went from playing to unfulfilled potential and bloated salaries to playing like a team with something to prove.

In fact, they did have plenty to prove, as a losing record last season might have triggered a huge house-cleaning by new G.M. Dave Gettleman.

He’s talked for two years about the cap issues created by the previous administration (the cost of owner Jerry Richardson spending none of the money before his lockout, and then spending it all at once afterward). Gettleman’s done a good job of filling in the blanks with day laborers, and appears to have done so again.

Losing players such as Mike Mitchell and Captain Munnerlyn shouldn’t sting as much, considering they were a minimum-wage free agent and a seventh-round pick. He found spare parts before, and has again, with cornerback Antoine Cason and safeties Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud in line to be this year’s beneficiaries of a pass rush.

Camp Battles.

The Panthers need to find a pair of starting wideouts, and it would be swell if Benjamin would grow into the job in a hurry. Beyond that, they have a bunch of unproven receivers who will be angling for significant roles, from journeyman haircut Tiquan Underwood to kids including Marvin McNutt and Tavarres King.

There’s also some shuffling among the offensive line jobs and in the secondary, with plenty of roles to fill.

One guy who might need to win a job is former starting safety Charles Godfrey, who tore his Achilles last year and then was forced into a pay cut just to have a chance. Godfrey could end up playing as their nickel, and he has some corner skills from his college days. Whether he can run remains to be seen.

Prospects.

It’s hard to not expect regression, considering the way the Panthers exceeded every reasonable expectation last year.

Their defense and Newton gives them a solid base to build upon, but it will only get harder from here.

They’re built to beat the best teams in the conference, and might have played the Seahawks tougher than anyone in Week One (before anybody realized they were any good).

If they find two dependable tackles and can get something — anything — from their receiving corps, they have a chance to pull off the first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history.

But it’s hard to consider either of those feats a given, which makes this a team which could still play well, but win far fewer games.

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Pete Carroll concerned with C.J. Prosise’s durability

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 13: C.J. Prosise #22 of the Seattle Seahawks carries the ball during the third quarter of a game against the New England Patriots during a game at Gillette Stadium on November 13, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) Getty Images

Seattle’s season came to an end on Saturday before running back C.J. Prosise could return from a fractured scapula that wiped out the second half of his rookie season with the Seahawks.

The broken shoulder-blade was the fourth injury that caused Prosise to miss time since being drafted in May. A hip flexor issue kept Prosise sidelined in OTAs. A hamstring strain took away time in training camp and a broken wrist bone in Seattle’s regular season opener against Miami forced Prosise to miss four games.

“I can’t tell you that I’m not concerned about C.J,” head coach Pete Carroll said. “He had trouble through the offseason, was unavailable to us throughout, and there was a groin and a hammy and a wrist and then the scapula thing he had. He has to show it.”

Prosise had 369 total yards over the four games preceding his injury against the Philadelphia Eagles in mid-Novemeber. He rushed for 174 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries and caught 16 passes for 195 yards. However, he also missed 12 of 18 games regular and postseason games for Seattle.

“He certainly is on it when he’s right,” Carroll said. “We would have had a shot this week to try and get him out there again, we would have busted it to get it and he would have had a really good chance to make it, so he was that close to returning. But there is a concern.”

The Seahawks had 11 different running backs carry the ball at least once for them this season due to injuries to Prosise and Thomas Rawls.

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Who will win the NFC title game?

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 30:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers looks to pass against the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on October 30, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

With two games to be played this weekend, the questions of the day for Thursday’s and Friday’s PFT Live are as simple as they can be. Who wins?

For Thursday, it’s the NFC. Packers at Falcons.

Vote, comment, vote again, comment again. Tune in at 6:00 a.m. ET to NBC Sports Radio and then to NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. for the simulcast. Guests include Scott Zolak of the Patriots Radio Network and MDS of PFT.

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Report: Seahawks will sign Perrish Cox

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 13:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers is hit by Perrish Cox #20 of the Tennessee Titans after he scores a touchdown during the game at Nissan Stadium on November 13, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Seahawks plan to sign veteran cornerback Perrish Cox, NFL Network reported Wednesday.

The Seahawks need experience in their secondary with Deshawn Shead having ACL surgery after being injured last weekend and both Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman also dealing with injuries. The team won’t push Thomas and Sherman in training camp if they aren’t ready, so the addition of Cox likely isn’t the only move the Seahawks will make to bolster their secondary depth.

Cox, 30, went from starter for the Titans in November to being released soon after. He played in 11 games last season, starting nine, and has started 45 of 81 games in his career.

A fifth-round pick of the Broncos in 2010, Cox has also played for the 49ers and previously spent time with the Seahawks in 2013.

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Jim Irsay breaks silence, says nothing about his coach and G.M.

INDIANAPOLIS - JANUARY 24:  Team owner Jim Irsay of the Indianapolis Colts waves to the crowd after the Colts defeated the New York Jets 30-17 to win the AFC Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 24, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

Long before Donald Trump was using Twitter as a tool for talking directly to the people, Colts owner Jim Irsay had perfected the craft. To a fault.

But even as the Two-Days-From-Now-Commander-In-Chief continues  to expand his presence on social media, Irsay has been dormant. Until today.

He finally broke his silence, 12 days after declaring that the team had signed a backup kicker. But Irsay didn’t address the elephant on the room; he simply retweeted a “thank you” from the team to retiring linebacker Robert Mathis.

Meanwhile, with mounting reports, rumors, and speculation about his pursuit of a new coach and/or General Manager and/or leader of the entire football operation, Irsay has still said nothing about the status of coach Chuck Pagano and G.M. Ryan Grigson.

Nothing. Not a word. Not a peep. On the record, off the record, nowhere.

There are three logical explanations for this. First, Irsay is still trying to lure Peyton Manning to take over the team, and the two of them are engaged in a negotiation that has yet to result in either man blinking. Second, Irsay had moved on to other candidates to take over the team, and those efforts are still pending. Third, Irsay has given up on finding replacements but it’s gotten to the point where declaring that both Pagano and Grigson will be back would make the delay seem even more conspicuous, so Irsay is simply going to say nothing and eventually act like nothing was happening.

Through it all, Pagano and Grigson have been left in limbo, a situation that surely causes plenty of personal angst and professional embarrassment. Again, what options do they have? They could quit, but they’d forfeit their buyouts.

And so the only solace comes from knowing that they’ll still be getting paid for the next three years, whether working for Irsay or not. At this point, they may welcome the “or not” option.

As to anyone who may be considering wink-nod accepting employment from Irsay while he’s still officially employing Pagano and Grigson, consider this: You could be the next one to eventually be undermined by an owner who looks for your replacement before he fires you.

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Rams long snapper picked for Pro Bowl

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 15:  Head coach John Fassel talks with Jake McQuaide #44 of the Los Angeles Rams against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on December 15, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Rams long snapper Jake McQuaide has been selected to represent the NFC in the Pro Bowl.

McQuaide is a first-time Pro Bowler. He’s been the Rams’ long snapper since 2011.

The Pro Bowl is Jan. 29 in Orlando.

McQuaide becomes the third Rams player to be selected for the Pro Bowl, joining punter Johnny Hekker and defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

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Carl Cheffers set to referee the Super Bowl

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 24: Referee Carl Cheffers #51 signals a turnover in the first quarter of the game between the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers at O.co Coliseum on December 24, 2015 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

The referee who made the most controversial penalty call of the playoffs will referee the Super Bowl.

Carl Cheffers, who threw the holding flag on Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher that negated Kansas City’s game-tying two-point conversion against the Steelers, has been given the Super Bowl assignment, according to FootballZebras.com.

That won’t sit well with Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who said after that holding call that Cheffers “shouldn’t be able to wear a zebra jersey.”

This will be Cheffers’ first Super Bowl. Three of the other officials on the Super Bowl crew — head linesman Kent Payne, line judge Jeff Seeman and field judge Doug Rosenbaum — have worked a Super Bowl before, while three others — umpire Dan Ferrell, side judge Dyrol Prioleau and back judge Todd Prukop — will be working their first Super Bowl.

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Jaguars keep Nathaniel Hackett as offensive coordinator

Buffalo Bills v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The Jaguars announced Wednesday that they’re retaining Nathaniel Hackett as their offensive coordinator.

Hackett, 37, spent the last two seasons as the team’s quarterbacks coach and last year was promoted to offensive coordinator under then-coach Gus Bradley nine games into the season following the firing of Greg Olson.

New coach Doug Marrone is keeping Hackett in that role in part because the two have history. Hackett was offensive coordinator under Marrone at Syracuse and with the Bills.

“We are excited to announce Nathaniel Hackett as our offensive coordinator and he will immediately be tasked with installing and implementing our offense this offseason,” Marrone said in the team’s statement. “I have had the pleasure of working with Nathaniel for seven consecutive seasons and know firsthand how knowledgeable and passionate he is about winning.”

Hackett becomes the sixth coach officially added to Marrone’s staff after the Jaguars announced last week that Marrone, the interim coach after Bradley’s firing, would take over on a permanent basis.

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Jordy Nelson returns to practice

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 24:  Jordy Nelson #87 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates a touchdown during the first quarter of a game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field on December 24, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) Getty Images

At a time when it’s believed to be unlikely that receiver Jordy Nelson will play on Sunday due to broken ribs, he returned to practice only 10 days after suffering the injury.

Per the official injury report, Nelson participated on a limited basis.

Not practicing on Wednesday were receiver Davante Adams (ankle), receiver Geronimo Allison (hamstring), safety Morgan Burnett (quadricep), kicker Mason Crosby (illness), running back James Starks (concussion), offensive lineman JC Trett (knee), and linebacker Julius Peppers (not injury related).

Limited in practice along with Nelson were receiver Jeff Janis (quadricep), guard T.J. Lang (foot), and cornerback Quinten Rollins (neck/concussion).

Linebackers Clay Matthews (shoulder), Nick Perry (hand), and Jayrone Elliott (hand) fully participated.

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NFL: Jaguars complied with Rooney Rule in hiring Tom Coughlin

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 12:  Former NY Giants coach Tom Coughlin attends Annual Charity Day hosted by Cantor Fitzgerald, BGC and GFI at BGC Partners, INC on September 12, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald) Getty Images

An interesting question has emerged regarding the decision of the Jaguars to make former Jaquars coach Tom Coughlin the executive V.P. of football operations. Did the Jaguars comply with the Rooney Rule before hiring Coughlin?

Compliance was required, given the nature of the role. In 2009, the league expanded the Rooney Rule to include “the hiring process for a club’s senior football operations position, whether described as general manager, executive vice president of football operations, or otherwise.” Coughlin has control of the roster in Jacksonville, and he supervises both coach Doug Marrone and G.M. Dave Caldwell. Clearly, Coughlin has the senior football operations position.

So which minority candidate did the Jaguars interview to comply with the Rooney Rule as to Coughlin’s position?

A Jaguars spokesman referred PFT to Jim Woodcock, who handles P.R. for owner Shad Khan. Via email, Woodcock said this in two separate emails: “I am afraid I cannot help you.  The practice of the owner and team (in this instance and in similar interview situations) would be to refrain from disclosing the identities of other interviewees.  It was a private and confidential process. . . . Indeed, the position Tom Coughlin filled required compliance with the Rooney Rule.  And the Jacksonville Jaguars fully complied.  Beyond that, however, it bears repeating that the interview process was private and confidential.”

The league confirmed that there was compliance.

“They complied with the rule,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said by email. “Clubs do not have to publicly disclose names of candidates they interviewed.  There are candidates who may not wish to have their name made public as it could harm their relationship with their existing employer.”

Those concerns make sense in the abstract. However, one of the primary purposes of the Rooney Rule is to inject into the public domain minority candidates who could be considered for similar positions elsewhere.

Complicating the Jacksonville situation is the fact that it wasn’t even known that the Jaguars were filling the job. Thus, qualified candidates (minority and otherwise) arguably didn’t even know that there was a job to seek.

The first word of Coughlin being hired came as an oh-by-the-way report that Coughlin had been hired along with Marrone. Over time, it became clear that Coughlin wasn’t becoming an employee; he was becoming, as a practical matter, the boss.

So in the search for a new football boss, a job for which most didn’t even realize the Jaguars were searching, the Jaguars complied. They and the league won’t say how they complied.

Two years ago, a similar question emerged in Miami, when Mike Tannenbaum became the executive V.P. of football operations in Miami. Initially, the Dolphins said former G.M. Dennis Hickey reported to Tannenbaum. Once it became clear that no other candidate was interviewed for the job, the Dolphins said that Hickey doesn’t report to Tannenbaum.

Here, the question apparently isn’t about compliance but transparency. Without transparency, however, it’s impossible to prove that compliance occurred.

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How much is success helping the Falcons sell PSLs?

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 14: Atlanta Falcons fans look on during the game against the Seattle Seahawks at the Georgia Dome on January 14, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

Here’s a shocking revelation: Teams that win games enjoy success when it comes to selling things.

For the Falcons, who went 11-5 this year and will host the Packers for a berth in the Super Bowl in the final game to be played in the Georgia Dome, it’s unclear whether and to what extent the on-field achievements have resulted in a bump in the purchase of the right to purchase season tickets.

Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution claims that it has, pointing out more than 8,000 PSLs have been sold during the season. Before Week One, the Falcons had sold fewer than 33,000 PSLs. They’ve now unloaded more than 41,000 of the money-for-nothing-but-the-right-to-buy-more-stuff devices.

More than 20,000 PSLs remain. Winning Sunday would help, surely. Winning two Sundays after that could go a long way toward clearing out the warehouse.

Still, it’s possible that the Falcons have reached the point of diminishing returns. Last year, the team realized an even larger spike in PSL sales during a smaller window. As of July 31, 2015, 12,997 had been sold. Through November 30, 2015, the amount exceeded 26,600. It’s an increase in a four-month period of more than 13,600.

Yes, the Falcons started 2015 with a 5-0 record. By November 30, however, they were 6-5.

This year has been better, but the merchandise is moving more slowly. Even if they win the Super Bowl, they may not sell all of the remaining PSLs before the new stadium opens later this year. It could be that most of the people who are ever going to buy PSLs already have, and that maybe some stragglers will become sufficiently motivated if the Falcons manage to win the first championship in league history.

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Sean Davis says he was fined for hit on Chris Conley

KANSAS CITY, MP - JANUARY 15:  Wide receiver Chris Conley #17 of the Kansas City Chiefs lays on the ground after being hit by outside linebacker Bud Dupree #48 of the Pittsburgh Steelers on a catch attempt during the second half in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) Getty Images

Steelers safety Sean Davis got flagged for a hit to the head of Chiefs wide receiver Chris Conley last Sunday night and said Wednesday that he has been fined by the league.

Davis said he was fined around $24,000 — the NFL’s fine schedule calls for a $24,309 fine for a first helmet-to-helmet hit — and that he plans to appeal. Davis hit Conley as the receiver tried to catch a pass on third-and-nine near the Steelers end zone in the fourth quarter, giving the Chiefs a first down they used to continue a drive that ended with a touchdown and a failed two-point conversion.

Conley missed one play before returning to the game.

“The penalty, I wasn’t trippin’ about the penalty man, it happened,” Davis said, via ESPN.com. “I’m sorry I hit him in the head, I’m not apologizing for it. That’s football. I dislodged the ball, I did my job, I wasn’t aiming at his head with my head. I was trying to hit him with my shoulder pad. He just fell into it, how I see it. But I did my job, we won the game. That’s that.”

Davis did not practice on Wednesday as he continues to deal with a shoulder injury, although coach Mike Tomlin suggested earlier this week that the rookie will be in the lineup against the Patriots.

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Three Washington Pro Bowlers pull out of all-star game

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 24:   Jordan Reed #86 of the Washington Redskins celebrates after catching a touchdown pass during the fourth quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on November 24, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

Three of Washington’s four Pro Bowlers will be skipping the all-star game because of injuries.

According to J.P. Finlay of CSNMidAtlantic.com, outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, tight end Jordan Reed and guard Brandon Scherff will pass on next week’s trip to Orlando, while left tackle Trent Williams is still scheduled to play.

Reed tried to play through a shoulder injury suffered on Thanksgiving and the results indicated he wasn’t 100 percent. Kerrigan played through an elbow injury, while Scherff was on the injury report with an ankle injury for the last month of the regular season.

Reed and Scherff were first-time honorees.

The Panthers announced that Trai Turner would replace Scherff on the NFC Pro Bowl team.

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Antonio Brown: “I absolutely regret the Facebook Live situation”

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) stands on the sideline during the second half of an AFC wild-card NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich) AP

Steelers receiver Antonio Brown did his best to apologize and move on today after his bizarre decision to broadcast the Steelers’ postgame locker room on social media on Sunday.

“I absolutely regret the Facebook Live situation,” Brown said. “It’s a total distraction to the organization. A total distraction to my teammates. Obviously disrespect to my coach. I’ve got utmost respect to my coach so I totally regret that.”

Brown said he had hoped to give fans the opportunity to join in with the team’s celebration of its win over the Chiefs.

“I’m human. I make mistakes. But as a man I own up to those mistakes. I was excited in the moment and wanted to give the fans the experience after the game,” Brown said.

Asked if he expects to be disciplined for what he did, Brown answered, “That will be between me and the NFL.”

Asked if he has a contract with Facebook, Brown said, “It’s top secret.”

Brown appeared chastened by the comments of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who called Brown’s actions “selfish” and “foolish.” And Brown sounded ready to put his focus for the rest of the week on facing the Patriots.

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Emmanuel Sanders replaces Amari Cooper in Pro Bowl

NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 13:  Emmanuel Sanders #10 of the Denver Broncos is grabbed from behind by Delvin Breaux #40 of the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 13, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Broncos defeated the Saints 25-23.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Broncos offense will be represented at the Pro Bowl.

Denver already had four defensive players set to play in the game and announced on Wednesday that wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders will be joining them in Orlando. He replaces Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper.

Sanders finished the year with 79 catches, 1,032 yards and five touchdowns. It’s the third straight year that Sanders has crossed the 1,000-yard mark, although this season’s total is the lowest of those three years. That may have been a result of playing with first-year starting quarterback Trevor Siemian in an offense that struggled down the stretch in the regular season, but Sanders remained a reliable target.

Sanders can continue to be that kind of piece in the Denver offense for three more seasons as he signed an extension with the Broncos just before the start of the regular season.

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Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell limited at Patriots practice

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 24: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots reacts with Chris Hogan #15 during the first half against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Patriots had all 53 players on their active roster on the field for Wednesday’s practice, but seven of their players were listed as limited participants in the workout.

Among that group were wide receivers Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell. Mitchell has missed the last two games with a knee injury, which has given Michael Floyd more playing time in the offense. Hogan injured his thigh in the third quarter against the Texans last Saturday and did not return to the game, although he said this week that he thought he could have returned if needed.

Wide receiver Danny Amendola was also limited, although there’s been no sign that he suffered a setback in his return to action after missing the final four regular season games with an ankle injury.

Linebacker Dont’a Hightower, tight end Martellus Bennett, running back Brandon Bolden and defensive lineman Jabaal Sheard rounded out the group of limited participants.

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