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Johnny Manziel’s debut draws record ratings for NFL Network

NFL Draft Football AP

Who knew the return of Dan Orlovsky was going to be such a big deal?

Via The Big Lead, Saturday night’s Lions-Browns game drew record ratings for the NFL Network, with a 1.81 rating and 2.2 million viewers.

OK, so it was probably Johnny Manziel they were tuning in to see.

The other games in the preseason top five for the league’s own network were Hall of Fame games (2007, Saints-Steelers and 2012 Saints-Cardinals), and a couple of Tim Tebow games, a 2010 Broncos-Bengals and a 2012 Jets-Giants matchup.

So while some will accuse the media (man, I hate those guys), of shoveling some stories down your throats, there’s clearly an appetite for them.

So we’ll keep shoveling.

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Marcell Dareus, Robert Woods back to practice for Bills

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 29:  Marcell Dareus #99 of the Buffalo Bills celebrates one of his two sacks against the Baltimore Ravens at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 29, 2013 in Orchard Park, New York.Buffalo won 23-20.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images) Getty Images

A suspension kept Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus out of the first four games of the season and a hamstring injury has kept him out of the last three, but the time for Dareus to make his 2016 debut may be drawing closer.

Dareus returned to practice on Wednesday for a limited session for the first time since initially suffering the injury upon his return from the suspension. During his press conference, coach Rex Ryan expressed optimism about getting Dareus on the field against the Patriots this weekend and the Bills may also be getting wide receiver Robert Woods back in the lineup.

Woods missed last Sunday’s loss with a foot injury and also got in a limited practice on Wednesday. With Sammy Watkins on IR and Marquise Goodwin still in the concussion protocol, a return from Woods would be a welcome event for the passing game.

Running back LeSean McCoy did not practice due to the hamstring injury that forced him out last Sunday, leading to questions about whether he should have played at all, and safety Aaron Williams was also on the sideline while recovering from a neck injury.

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Tony Romo throws at practice for the first time

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 25:  Injured Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys throws prior to a game against the Chicago Bears at AT&T Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was back at practice on Wednesday. In a very loose sense that hardly suggests his return to the field is imminent.

Via Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Romo threw in individual drills on Wednesday. It’s the first time he has thrown at practice since suffering a compression fracture in his back during the preseason, at Seattle.

Romo has been throwing regularly in recent weeks. His most notable effort came in Week Two, when Romo threw passes before the team’s win at Washington.

With rookie Dak Prescott rolling, the Cowboys have no reason to rush Romo back. Indeed, like most difficult decisions, they seem to be delaying this one as long as they can. Which means that the team is, in a roundabout way, applying the “100 percent” rule to Romo, holding him back until he’s fully and completely healed — and determining whether he’s fully and completely healed based in part on the performance of Prescott.

As long as they’re winning with Prescott, why make any decisions about Romo? As long as Romo, who’s getting $500,000 per week whether he plays or doesn’t, isn’t publicly complaining about the situation, the Cowboys can keep kicking the can unless and until Prescott hits the proverbial rookie wall.

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Jared Odrick, Julius Thomas questionable for Thursday night

JACKSONVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 23:   Julius Thomas #80 of the Jacksonville Jaguars attempts to make a catch against the Oakland Raiders during the game at EverBank Field on October 23, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jaguars have released their injury report for Thursday night’s game against the Titans and they only put designations on a couple of players.

Defensive end Jared Odrick and tight end Julius Thomas have both been listed as questionable to play in the game.

Odrick played after being listed as questionable last week with a hip injury. It’s a quad issue that’s landed him on this week’s report and Odrick did not practice on either Tuesday or Wednesday. Thomas didn’t practice Tuesday due to an ankle injury that’s been lingering the last few weeks, but moved up to a limited workout on Wednesday.

Everyone else on the 53-man roster was a full participant in practice on Wednesday, leaving the Jaguars in generally good physical condition as they try to rebound from last Sunday’s loss to the Raiders.

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Another double-digit drop in prime time

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 24:  Quarterback Brock Osweiler #17 of the Houston Texans runs out on to the field before the game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 24, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Texans-Broncos game was pretty much what everyone thought it would be. And so were the ratings.

Unmoved by the return of Brock Osweiler to Denver, the needle moved in the wrong direction from a Nielsen standpoint, with a 14-percent decline in ratings from the Ravens-Cardinals Monday night game from Week Seven a year ago. The ratings also reflected a 17-percent decline from 2014, when the Steelers and Texans squared off.

Via, it was the lowest Monday night rating for Week Seven since 2012, when Lions-Bears conflicted with a presidential debate and a Game Seven in baseball. It also was the fifth game this year with a rating below 7.0. Previously, only four had dropped below that mark — in three prior seasons combined.

Perhaps the performance of the Texans in other big games contributed to the lack of widespread interest. It would have been a bigger game if it had been selected for the first game of the new season. Then again, the struggles of Carolina would have made Panthers-Broncos a far less compelling matchup later in the year.

Either way, the sizzle simply isn’t there this year, so far. After the election and the World Series end and once the playoff races heat up, we’ll know whether it’s an aberration, a full-year trend, or possibly a new reality for the NFL.

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Jets place Geno Smith on IR

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 23:  Geno Smith #7 looks on from the bench during the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at MetLife Stadium on October 23, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) Getty Images

Quarterback Geno Smith will miss the rest of the season after tearing his ACL against the Ravens last Sunday, which left little reason for him to remain on the team’s active roster.

The Jets went ahead and removed Smith from it on Wednesday by placing him on injured reserve. Smith’s contract expires at the end of this season, so there’s a pretty good chance that he won’t be back on the roster at any point in the future.

Smith was one of four quarterbacks on the roster, so the team didn’t need to add to Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg as backups for Ryan Fitzpatrick.

They elected to sign linebacker Taiwan Jones instead. Jones spent most of last season on the Jets’ practice squad and was promoted to the active roster later in the year without seeing any action. He was with the team in the preseason this year as well, but didn’t make it through cuts at the start of the regular season.

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Joe Thomas hopes Browns stick to their word about not trading him

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 16:  Jadeveon Clowney #90 of the Houston Texans tries to get past Joe Thomas #73 of the Cleveland Browns during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 16, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

The trade deadline is next week and one of the names that has come up as a possible target for teams looking to upgrade their offensive line is Browns left tackle Joe Thomas.

Connecting those dots isn’t hard. The Browns have jettisoned many veterans since their latest regime change, Thomas has been one of the best tackles in the league for years and the team reportedly came close to moving him to Denver around this time last year.

In response to such thoughts, Browns coach Hue Jackson said earlier this week that the Browns “are not going to trade Joe Thomas.” Thomas said Wednesday that he’s been around the NFL too long to be surprised by anything, but that he hopes Jackson was telling the truth.

“Feels good to be loved,” Thomas said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I’m hoping they stick to their word.”

Thomas admitted to not being sure if he wanted to stick with the Browns before they hired Jackson and put their latest front office in place early this year, but said after Jackson’s arrival that he “definitely” wanted to stick around. An 0-7 start hasn’t changed that feeling, although it won’t be until next week until we’re sure that the status quo will remain in place.

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Josh McCown optimistic he’ll play on Sunday

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 18: Josh McCown #13 of the Cleveland Browns looks on before the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

If the Browns had to play a game yesterday, they would have started fourth-string quarterback Kevin Hogan. Fortunately, they didn’t have to play a game yesterday.

Cleveland does have a game on Sunday against the Jets, and there’s optimism that Josh McCown will be able to play. McCown said his broken collarbone is healing nicely, and he’s hoping for a good week of practice this week and full medical clearance before Sunday.

“We’re moving in that direction,” McCown told reporters in Cleveland today. “We’ll see how it goes.”

After Robert Griffin III was injured in Week One, McCown started Week Two, only to break his collarbone. Cody Kessler has started since Week Three, but he suffered a concussion on Sunday and appears to be unlikely to get cleared in time to play on Sunday.

So at the moment it appears that this week, McCown will be No. 1 and Hogan will be No. 2 at the most dangerous position since Spinal Tap drummer.

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Belichick: Lorenzo Alexander one of the best players we’ve seen all year

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 16:  Lorenzo Alexander #57 of the Buffalo Bills sacks Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers during the second half at New Era Field on October 16, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) Getty Images

Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander has been a useful NFL player for the last decade, seeing time on defense and special teams for a variety of teams.

Alexander’s play this season has taken things to another level, however. Pressed into a starting role after injuries to other linebackers in Buffalo, Alexander has responded with at least a half-sack in each game and a league-high nine sacks overall while also playing his usual role in the kicking game.

Alexander had one of those sacks against the Patriots in Week Four and Patriots coach Bill Belichick called him “one of the best players we’ve seen all year” while they head into this weekend’s rematch.

“He’s been great,” Belichick said in his Wednesday press conference. “He’s had a great year. [He’s] been a tremendous run player, pass player, every special team, impact player in the kicking game and impact player on defense, hard to block, rushes inside, rushes outside, good tackler, great motor. He’s really good.”

The Bills defense took a step backward last Sunday after playing a major part in the team’s four-game winning streak. Keeping Alexander in check would do a lot to help the Patriots extend the downturn, although doing that has proven to be difficult for any of Buffalo’s opponents so far this season.

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Doug Pederson says Eagles aren’t looking to trade for a receiver

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 23: Head coach Doug Pederson reacts during the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lincoln Financial Field on October 23, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Vikings 21-10. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) Getty Images

Before the start of the regular season, the Eagles made a trade with the Titans to acquire wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.

Green-Beckham has caught 13 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown for the Eagles’ 29th-ranked passing game in the first six games of the season. That low ranking has helped spark some talk that the Eagles might want to make another deal for a wide receiver like Torrey Smith before next week’s trade deadline.

During his Wednesday press conference, Eagles coach Doug Pederson said that there’s no “legitimacy” to any such chatter because the Eagles are happy with the players they have at the position. Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor and Josh Huff join Green-Beckham in that receiver group.

Comments like Pederson’s should always be taken with a grain of salt because we’ve seen too many examples of teams saying one thing before doing another, especially when there’s a need to boost production in the area under discussion. Given how many other changes the Eagles have undergone on offense since Pederson took over, however, it isn’t hard to understand why they might like to focus on what’s already on hand rather than shaking things up again in the middle of the season.

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NFL: No ejection for Jarvis Landry because we can’t tell intent

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - OCTOBER 23:  Jarvis Landry #14 of the Miami Dolphins is tackled by  Ronald Darby #28 of the Buffalo Bills at the Hard Rock Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images) Getty Images

Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry put Bills safety Aaron Williams in the hospital with a brutal hit to the head on Sunday. That hit drew a 15-yard penalty, but Bills coach Rex Ryan suggested afterward that ejecting Landry would have been appropriate as well.

NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino said on NFL Network that Landry wasn’t ejected because the officials can’t say for sure that Landry was specifically aiming for Williams’ head, as opposed to just making a block and going too high.

“It’s certainly a foul,” Blandino said. “It’s certainly something that we’ll review for potential discipline, but it’s still a football play, and it’s tough to read intent there. That’s why the officials kept him in the game. It’s not an automatic ejection. It’s up to the discretion of the crew and they didn’t feel like it was flagrant enough to throw the player out of the game.”

In college football, a hit like that would be an automatic targeting ejection. In the NFL, there are fewer plays that result in automatic ejections.

“We have very few automatic ejections in the game today,” Blandino said. “If you get two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls in the same game, if you put your hands on a game official in an aggressive way, those are automatic ejections. Punching an opponent.”

That’s an area where college football’s rules make more sense than the NFL’s. If there are going to be automatic ejections at all, an illegal hit to the head that sends a player to the hospital should be something that draws an automatic ejection. College football’s targeting rule has its problems, but it’s a rule that makes more sense than the NFL’s rule of ejecting a player for two taunting fouls, but letting a player stay in the game after a vicious and illegal hit to the head.

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Why did NFL reduce Josh Brown’s suspension from six games to one?

JACKSONVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 30: Josh Brown #3 of the New York Giants reactsa after missing a field-goal during the second half of the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on November 30, 2014 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images) Getty Images

One of the biggest lingering questions regarding the Josh Brown case relates to the decision to suspend him for the May 2015 incident that resulted in his arrest. With the NFL now using a six-game suspension as the baseline for first-offense domestic violence, why was he suspended for only one game?

The Personal Conduct Policy, as revised after the Ray Rice debacle, establishes the six-game suspension for a first offense, with the possibility of the suspension increasing or decreasing, based on aggravating or mitigating factors.

“Possible aggravating factors include, but are not limited to, a prior violation of the Personal Conduct Policy, similar misconduct before joining the NFL, violence involving a weapon, choking, repeated striking, or when an act is committed against a particularly vulnerable person, such as a child, a pregnant woman, or an elderly person, or where the act is committed in the presence of a child,” the policy states. As to mitigating factors, there is no similar explanation.

So what are the mitigating factors? Absent an effort to identify them, mitigating factors can be whatever the NFL wants them to be.

As to Brown, there were two mitigating factors, from the league’s perspective. First, the NFL didn’t regard the incident as a serious instance of domestic violence, since Brown simply grabbed his now-ex-wife’s wrist. (Many would say that any incident of domestic violence is serious.) Second, the NFL considered its difficulty in getting cooperation from Brown’s now-ex-wife or from law enforcement to be a mitigating factor.

The better approach would be to stick with the default penalty of six games for any incident of domestic violence, unless and until the player can articulate and prove true mitigating factors on appeal. The structure of the policy, however, suggests that the NFL doesn’t want to impose a standard of this nature, possibly since it would strip the league of the ability to point to any factor it wants as a mitigating factor — regardless of whether it actually is.

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Anti-Baalke banner to fly over next 49ers home game

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 28: San Francisco 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke watches warmups against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi's Stadium on December 28, 2014 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Don Feria/Getty Images) Getty Images

When the 1-6 49ers return from their bye, an effort will be made to force the team to bid farewell to G.M. Trent Baalke.

Via, an anti-Baalke banner will fly over Levi’s Stadium in connection with the team’s next home game, on November 6 against the Saints. The public funding goal of $1,076 was quickly reached, allowing for the “#FireTrent” message to be displayed to anyone at the game.

Maybe the good news is that ongoing “traffic problems” will ensure that fewer people will see the banner.

The reality is that, as the 49ers continue a stunning fall from perennial contender to perennial doormat, the paying customers need to be engaged. Surely, plenty of them currently are tempted to disengage, indefinitely.

Which will result in plenty of them pressuring the team to disengage from Baalke, permanently.

Regardless of whether the 49ers fire Baalke or make other changes during or after the year, much must be done to turn around a team that seemed to be setting the gold standard for the NFC, if not the NFL.

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Huff’s TD return leads to NFC weekly honor

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 23: Josh Huff #13 of the Philadelphia Eagles gets by Eric Kendricks #54 of the Minnesota Vikings after making a catch for a first down during the fourth quarter of a game at Lincoln Financial Field on October 23, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The eagles defeated the Vikings 21-10. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) Getty Images

Eagles wide receiver Josh Huff returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown last Sunday vs. the Vikings, and on Wednesday Huff was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

Huff’s touchdown was the Eagles’ first score of the game. They went on to hand the Vikings their first loss of the season, 21-10.

The touchdown gave a nice boost to Huff’s kick return average, which is now up to 38 yards per return on the season. He also had a kickoff return for a touchdown in 2014.

Huff’s return marked the first time in Eagles history that the Eagles returned kickoffs for touchdowns in back-to-back weeks. Wendell Smallwood ran a kickoff back 86 yards for a touchdown the previous week at Washington.

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Landon Collins named NFC defensive player of the week

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23:  Landon Collins #21 New York Giants celebrates his touchdown during the NFL International Series match between New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams at Twickenham Stadium on October 23, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images) Getty Images

Whether it was jet lag or just the continuation of a season-long lack of consistence, the Giants offense didn’t get much done against the Rams in London last Sunday.

The Giants were still able to return home with a victory, however, and safety Landon Collins was a big reason why they won. Collins had two of the team’s four interceptions of Rams quarterback Case Keenum and scored the team’s first touchdown of the game.

The score came on a play that’s sure to be a staple of highlight films for a good long while. With the Giants trailing 10-3 in the second quarter, Collins picked off a pass that went off Tavon Austin’s hands and began a trip to the end zone that took him from one side of the field to the other while breaking several attempted tackles.

Collins’ second interception came on another attempt to get the ball to Austin in the fourth quarter and set up the touchdown drive that put the Giants up 17-10. Keenum would throw two more interceptions and the score stood up for a victory that had Collins’ fingerprints all over it.

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Davante Adams named NFC offensive player of the week

GREENBAY, WI - OCTOBER 20: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers talks with teammate wide receiver Davante Adams #17 in the third quarter against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field on October 20, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) Getty Images

In the absence of a reliable running game, the Packers needed someone to take on a larger role.

Wide receiver Davante Adams did just that.

Adams was named NFC offensive player of the week after catching 13 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns in last Thursday’s win over the Bears.

Adams hadn’t caught more than five passes in a game all season, but made the most of the opportunity, and helped spark a Packers offense which has been off sync all season.

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