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Gary Myers explains the Terrell Owens snub

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 07:  Terrell Owens #81 of the Dallas Cowboys antagonizes the crowd during a stop in play while playing the Pittsburgh Steelers on December 7, 2008 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh won the game 20-13.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

[Editor’s note: Earlier this week, Gary Myers of the New York Daily News contacted me via email to explain his case against putting Terrell Owens in the Hall of Fame. We exchanged several messages on the topic, and I eventually asked Myers whether his views are “on the record.” He said that they were not, but he offered to summarize his position with an express invitation to use any, some, or all of it. In fairness to Gary, I have decided to post his entire approved message below. Subsequent PFT posts may use portions of his message.]

I’ve been reading your posts on the Hall of Fame and the controversy over Terrell Owens not getting elected again this year. Just want you to know I would have absolutely no problem revealing my ballot. I believe in full transparency. Nothing to hide. I usually publish my vote in the Daily News.

I know you don’t agree with the statement I made a year ago on Dan Patrick’s radio show (Ross Tucker was hosting that day) that teams could not wait to get rid of T.O. Once he became a problem or cancer in the locker room, I think it’s clear they could not wait to dump him. It just took longer in S.F. than Philly or Dallas.

I did vote for Owens in the cut from 15 to 10 two years in a row but honestly had not made up my mind if I would vote for him either year if he had made the cut to five. Unfortunately for him, he was eliminated each year in the cut to 10.

There are some very smart journalists in that meeting room. I can only speak for myself: I have opinions. I don’t have an agenda. I’ve been covering the NFL since 1978, longer than just about anybody in the room except maybe four or five people out of the 46 media members. This year, HOFers Dan Fouts and James Lofton were added, increasing the number of voters to 48.

I think I know what a Hall of Famer looks like. T.O. will be in the Hall of Fame. Just because he didn’t get into the HOF the first or second year doesn’t mean the process needs to be overhauled. Michael Irvin didn’t get in the HOF until his third year and I could easily make a case he was a better player than T.O. For sure, if I had a choice of having one of them on my team, I would take Irvin. Not even close in my mind.

Owens signed a seven-year deal with the Eagles after he was acquired from the 49ers. In his second training camp with the Eagles, he wanted a new contract and became a tremendous pain and blew up the defending NFC champs. He had played one year of a seven-year contract. I know contracts are one-way in the NFL,  but even for Owens, that was a bit much, complaining just 14% of the way through the deal for a team he wanted to play for and in a city that embraced him.

First, he was such a problem he got thrown out of camp by Andy Reid and later in the season, he was thrown off the team. The Eagles finished in last place with a 6-10 record. I know a lot is made of his courageous Super Bowl game and it was pretty amazing. But the Eagles won two playoff games without him to get to the Super Bowl that year and then lost the Super Bowl with him.

As far as the comparison to Irvin, just as far as their playing ability, Irvin played on three Super Bowl championship teams. He was a leader and a winner. He had much better hands. Owens dropped an awful lot of passes. Irvin imposed his will on games while Owens was carrying a Sharpie in his sock and eating popcorn with the cheerleaders.

I was not on the committee when Irvin was a candidate, but my guess is his off the field problems are why it took him three years to get in, although the mandate from the HOF is not to consider issues away from the field like arrests and drug use. In the case of Owens and others who were considered distractions, the locker room is considered an extension of the field.

All that being said, I think Owens is a HOFer. There’s some great players who had to exhibit patience before they were elected. In my opinion, the case for Owens being a first or second ballot HOFer would have been strengthened if he played on a Super Bowl championship team.

I know the voting process has become an issue you are passionate about. I would really suggest you contact Joe Horrigan at the HOF and ask to be added to the committee when there is an opening. You would be a valuable voice in the room.

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Terrell Owens dropped passes, as great receivers do

MIAMI - OCTOBER 04:  Wide receiver Terrell Owens #81 of the Buffalo Bills can't make a catch in the end-zone over the defense of cornerback Vontae Davis #21 of the Miami Dolphins at Land Shark Stadium on October 4, 2009 in Miami, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the Bills 38-10.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images) Getty Images

We noted earlier that one Pro Football Hall of Fame voter, Ron Borges, has finally made an on-field case for why Owens should be excluded, that he dropped too many passes. We’ve now taken some time to examine that claim, and we find it to be weak.

Although drops are not an official NFL statistic, Borges appeared to be relying on Stats, LLC, which has tracked drops since the 1990s, for his claim that “Owens not only led the NFL in drops once, he finished in the top four in drops seven other seasons during his 15-year career.” That is true, but missing the important context that league leaders in drops are often among the NFL’s best wide receivers.

After going through all the Stats, LLC, drops data for Owens’ career, I’ve compiled these notes on Owens’ dropped passes in each of his 15 NFL seasons:

1996: Owens dropped just one pass while making 35 catches as a rookie.

1997: Owens dropped five passes and wasn’t even in the Top 50 in drops. Hall of Famer Michael Irvin was second in the NFL with 11 drops, while Hall of Famer Tim Brown was tied for fourth with nine drops.

1998: Owens dropped five passes and wasn’t even in the Top 50 in drops while catching 64.4 percent of the passes thrown to him. His teammate Jerry Rice dropped eight passes and was tied for 12th in drops while catching 54.3 percent of the passes thrown to him.

1999: Owens again dropped five passes, again wasn’t even in the Top 50 in drops, and again had better marks than Rice while playing in the same offense: Owens caught 61.2 percent of the passes thrown to him while Rice dropped nine passes and caught 54.0 percent of the passes thrown to him.

2000: Owens dropped 13 passes and was fourth in the NFL in drops. Leading the NFL in drops that year with 16 was Rod Smith, who has been discussed as a Hall of Fame candidate.

2001: Owens dropped 10 passes and was tied for fourth in the NFL. (Owens also led the league in touchdown catches.)

2002: Owens dropped 10 passes, tied for ninth in the NFL. Tied with, among others, Jerry Rice, who dropped the same number of passes while having fewer catches, fewer yards and fewer touchdowns than Owens. Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison led the NFL with 16 drops.

2003: Owens dropped 11 passes and was tied for third in the NFL. He also caught 80 passes for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns and went to the Pro Bowl.

2004: Owens dropped seven passes. There were 17 NFL players who dropped as many or more passes than Owens while catching fewer passes that season.

2005: Owens dropped five passes, tied for 36th in the NFL.

2006: Owens led the NFL with 17 drops. This is Owens’ first year in Dallas and the one and only year when it’s legitimate to argue that he dropped an inordinate amount of passes. It’s also worth noting that he led the NFL in touchdown catches.

2007: Owens dropped 10 passes, tied for third in the NFL. He also caught 81 passes for 1,355 yards and 15 touchdowns and was chosen as a first-team All-Pro.

2008: Owens dropped 10 passes, fourth in the NFL. He also caught 69 passes for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns.

2009: Owens dropped nine passes and was tied for fourth in the NFL. He also led an otherwise terrible Bills passing offense with 55 catches for 829 yards.

2010: Owens was tied with Brandon Marshall for third in drops. Wes Welker was first and Reggie Wayne was second.

So did Owens drop a lot of passes? Sure, especially as his career was winding down in Dallas, Buffalo and Cincinnati. But a lot of great receivers drop a lot of passes. Is Borges going to argue that Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin, Tim Brown and Marvin Harrison should be removed from the Hall of Fame because they were all on the drops leaderboards with Owens? Is Borges going to argue that Rod Smith, Brandon Marshall, Wes Welker and Reggie Wayne don’t have good career résumés because they were all on the drops leaderboards with Owens?

When you’re knocking a player because he did a lot of bad things — dropped a lot of passes or threw a lot of interceptions or fumbled a lot — it’s important to remember that you can only be in a position to do a lot of bad things if your team is relying on you a lot, and your team is only going to rely on you a lot if you’re a good player. Brett Favre is the NFL’s all-time leader in both interceptions and fumbles, but no one disputes that he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Owens dropped a lot of passes, which tells us that his quarterbacks threw to him a lot, and he got his hands on the ball a lot. A mediocre NFL receiver doesn’t get the opportunity to drop a lot of passes because he doesn’t get open often enough for his quarterback to throw to him, he doesn’t adjust to the ball well enough to get his hands on it, and he doesn’t last long enough to stay on the field if he keeps dropping the ball.

Great receivers like Owens, Rice, Irvin, Brown and Harrison dropped the ball a lot because they got the ball thrown to them a lot. And they got the ball thrown to them a lot because they’re Hall of Famers. At least, all of them but Owens are Hall of Famers. Owens’ absence from Canton says more about voters like Borges than it says about Owens himself.

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NFL sets cap percentages for franchise tags

gettyimages-169117083-640x424 Getty Images

The franchise-tag crop report has arrived. Sort of.

Prior to 2011, the non-exclusive franchise tenders were determined by averaging the five highest cap numbers at each position from the prior year. Starting in 2011, the tenders are determined by the aggregate sum of the salary cap for the five prior years, divided by the aggregate sum of the franchise tags at each position over the same five-year period. The relative cap percentage is then applied to the base salary cap number for the new league year and, voila, the franchise tenders are known.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the 2017 percentages are as follows:

Quarterback: 12.735 percent.

Defensive end: 10.14 percent.

Receiver: 9.39 percent.

Linebacker: 8.712 percent.

Offensive line: 8.546 percent.

Cornerback: 8.51 percent.

Defensive tackle: 8.016 percent.

Running back: 7.257 percent.

Safety: 6.524 percent.

Tight end: 5.856 percent.

Kicker-punter: 2.895 percent.

The specific amounts of the franchise tenders won’t be known until the per-team salary cap has been finalized. If the cap is $165 million, here are the salary-cap numbers:

Quarterback: $21.01 million.

Defensive end: $16.73 million.

Receiver: $15.49 million.

Linebacker: $14.37 million.

Offensive line: $14.1 million.

Cornerback: $14.04 million.

Defensive tackle: $13.22 million.

Running back: $11.9 million.

Safety: $10.76 million.

Tight end: $9.66 million.

Kicker-punter: $4.77 million.

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The full Tom Brady interview

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates after defeating the Falcons 34-28 during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

You’ll see various clips and snippets of the extended Tom Brady interview throughout these pages over the next day or two (or week . . . or month . . . or year). If you want to hear the entire interview, you can do it right now.

The full video from Tuesday’s PFT Live is attached to this specific post. We covered plenty of topics, and Brady spoke at length on many issues that Patriots fans or fans of football will want to know about.

If you want to know more about the things Brady has going on beyond football, Brady’s website has plenty of information about the TB12 Sports Therapy Center and the TB12 Foundation, which helps young athletes achieve and sustain peak performance.

Thanks again to Brady for getting up at 6:00 a.m. Montana time to call the show. Thanks in advance to you for checking out what the four-time Super Bowl MVP had to say.

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Will T.O. snub keep Randy Moss out of HOF, too?

TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 3:  A fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers mocks wide receiver Randy Moss #84 of the Minnesota Vikings during the NFL game at Raymond James Stadium on November 3, 2002 in Tampa, Florida.  The Buccaneers defeated the Vikings 38-24. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Hall of Fame voters have crafted as to receiver Terrell Owens justification for undermining his on-field performances with false narratives and anecdotal claims that haven’t been attributed to any specific teammates or coaches. So what happens in 2018, when receiver Randy Moss becomes eligible for consideration for the first time?

Both should get in. But will Moss be added to the same bench on which Owens indefinitely is sitting?

With Moss, the narratives aren’t false. He declared in 2001, “I play when I want to play.” For those who had been watching him closely, that declaration confirmed what the eyes had detected through his first three-plus NFL seasons. He’d lollygag to the line of scrimmage when the ball wasn’t coming to him, and if the ball didn’t come to him early and often, he’d often check out.

Indeed, the Moss tombstone mantra came less than a year after he checked out in one of the ugliest losses in Vikings history — a “41-to-donut” (as he called it) drubbing against the Giants in the NFC title game. Moss had two catches for 18 yards in a game that was over not long after it started.

Moss drew national criticism for leaving the field early in a 2004 game at Washington, which surely became a factor in the decision of the Vikings to unload Moss after that season. With the Raiders, Moss talked a good game on the way in (“I’m committed to excellence, and I just wanna win, baby”), but then he quickly quit on the team when the team wasn’t very good.

It got so bad that, after two years in Oakland the Raiders essentially gave him away to the Patriots, where Moss immediately proved the “I play when I want to play” adage by deciding he wanted to play each and every week — and Moss had one of the finest seasons for any player at any position in NFL history.

But he’d last fewer than three more years with the Patriots, who abruptly traded him after he publicly questioned his future with the team. The Vikings coughed up a third-round pick to bring Moss home during a 2010 season that still could have gone either way, one year after nearly getting to the Super Bowl. Once again, he said all the right things on the way in. Not long after that, he was on the way out.

Via Jeff Pearlman’s Brett Favre bio Gunslinger, Favre begged the Vikings to trade for Moss. But Favre changed his tune quickly after Moss notoriously complained loudly in the locker room about a catered meal that he wouldn’t “feed to his dog.”

The problems went deeper than canine cuisine. Moss quickly decided that he didn’t like coach Brad Childress (join the club), and Moss opted to do something about it. From Gunslinger: “One day, when Vikings owner Zygi Wilf walked through the locker room, Moss looked at him and hissed, ‘You need to get rid of the f–king coach.’ Wilf was horrified. . . . ‘Randy destroyed our team,’ said one Viking. ‘He just destroyed us.'”

The Vikings eventually dumped Moss one day after a loss to the Patriots that was capped by Moss openly praising his former teammates and coaches in New England. His return to Minnesota lasted four games.

The cabal of voters who have put T.O. on time out have been pushing the notion that “teams couldn’t wait to get rid” of Owens. That shoe, however, fits the foot of Randy Moss much better.

The Vikings traded Moss in his prime after seven years with the team; Owens left the 49ers as a free agent after eight. The Raiders bought Moss high and sold him low, unloading a player who had seemed to be fading after two year — primarily because he’d been loafing.

That Patriots sparked a Moss renaissance, until he became concerned in the final year of a three-year, $27 million contract that he wouldn’t be getting another one. So it was farewell to Moss in New England, and then after just a few weeks it was farewell again to Moss in Minnesota.

He finished that season as largely a bystander in Tennessee, catching six passes for 80 yards in eight games. Moss sort of retired in 2011 (no one seriously pursued him), and then he came back in 2012 for one last year, with the 49ers.

It was hardly vintage Moss — he caught 28 passes for 434 yards and three touchdowns — but it helped soften some of the hard, awkward edges of the Moss misadventures from 2010.

With all those things being said, Moss deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame. But if Owens is going to be kept out for the things he did between the edge of the playing field and the parking lot, Moss should be, too.

As one voter told me several years ago, Owens is far more worthy than Moss because Owens never quit on any of his teams. Even during T.O.’s disastrous 2005 season in Philly, he generated 763 receiving yards and six touchdowns in only seven games. In 2006 with the Raiders, Moss played in 13 games but accounted for only 553 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

While these non-statistical factors shouldn’t be irrelevant to the consideration of a player’s candidacy for Canton, it should take a lot more than what either guy did away from the field to overcome the best two career receiving performances for anyone not named Jerry Rice. Both should get in the Hall of Fame. By slamming the brakes on Owens, however, the voters have now put themselves in an even tougher spot with Moss.

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Exploring the “teams couldn’t wait to get rid of” T.O. narrative

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 2:  Terrell Owens #81 of the Philadelphia Eagles taunts the crowd during the second half of the game against the Kansas City Chiefs on October 2, 2005 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

Setting aside for now (but perhaps not for long) whether the not-so-subtle admonition from Hall of Fame quarterback and Hall of Fame voter Dan Fouts to Terrell Owens about criticizing the process proves that his omission from the Hall of Fame is less about whether he deserves a spot in Canton and more about whether the panel “likes” him, it’s time to unwrap an increasingly common theme. If the journalists on the selection committee who are opposed to Owens aren’t going to do it, then a sort-of journalist who will never be on the selection committee needs to.

Here’s a quick caveat: I’m not doing this because I “like” Terrell Owens. I’m ambivalent at best about him as a person. In 2013, he called me “Satan,” so depending on T.O.’s personal worship habits it’s safe to assume he doesn’t like me.

That said, I’d like to think after following the NFL for more than 40 years and working in this business for nearly 17, I know a Hall of Famer when I see one. Owens, in my opinion, is a Hall of Famer, and it’s not close.

I also have developed a very strong aversion over the years to BS. There seems plenty of it going around regarding Owens.

The biggest potential pile comes from the narrative that multiple “teams couldn’t wait to get rid” of Owens. First publicly articulated a year ago by Gary Myers of the New York Daily News when being properly grilled by Ross Tucker for specific proof that Owens was too disruptive to be enshrined, the presumption that the 49ers, Eagles, Cowboys, Bills, and Bengals all lined up to dump Owens continues to emerge as a knee-jerk mantra for justifying keeping him out of Canton — and possibly as a pretext for the fact that the folks voting to snub him simply don’t like him.

This year, the “teams couldn’t wait to get rid” of Owens narrative is back. Fouts echoed it in explaining T.O.’s omission. So did Hall of Fame voter Ira Kaufman of

“Teams couldn’t wait to get rid of him at his peak,” Kaufman said regarding Owens during a Wednesday appearance on Chris Russo’s SiriusXM radio show. “He was suspended twice, he was told, ‘We don’t want you around.’ The Eagles said, ‘Goodbye, we don’t want you. Get out of here.’ The 49ers said, ‘We don’t want to see you anymore. . . . This is about a guy who teams couldn’t wait to get rid of.”

That’s a gross oversimplification of the situation at best. It’s a flat-out misrepresentation at worst. (It’s not Ira’s fault; he’s simply passing along the things he’s being told by members of the committee who oppose Owens’ enshrinement.)

Lets’ start with the 49ers. Owens had the ability to void the final two years of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent in 2004. Based on some of the information gathered by PFT (i.e., sort-of journalism), it is believed that the 49ers would have gladly kept Owens beyond his eight years with the team if he hadn’t voided his contract. However, they weren’t interested in signing him as an unrestricted free agent, given that the team was young and rebuilding — and that it would have been very expensive to sign him in competition with the open market.

Ultimately, an error in the filing of the paperwork voiding his contract resulted in an effort by the 49ers to trade Owens to the Ravens, a grievance filed by the union, and a settlement that resulted in Owens being shipped to the Eagles under a seven-year, $42 million contract with a $10 million signing bonus. (The Ravens reportedly would have paid him $17 million to sign, but Owens reportedly wanted to play with Donovan McNabb, not Kyle Boller.)

Owens delivered immediately in Philadelphia, with 1,200 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns in 14 regular-season games. He suffered a broken ankle during a December 19 win over the Cowboys, missed two regular-season games, missed two playoff games, and somehow returned for Super Bowl XXXIX, catching nine passes for 122 yards and arguably performing better than any other player on the field in a 24-21 loss to the Patriots.

Due to earn a base salary of $7.5 million in 2005 and looking for a more significant financial reward for his efforts in 2004, Owens asked for a raise. The Eagles, notorious at the time for putting their ability to manage the salary cap and to sign young players to long-term deals they would likely outperform over winning, refused. Repeatedly.

So Owens opted to utilize the leverage available to him. Instead of holding out, however, he chose be disruptive in the hopes of getting paid or getting traded to a team that would pay him. An ill-advised tactic to be sure, the reality is that the Eagles wanted to keep Owens under the terms of the contract he signed. Only after a season of squabbles and suspensions and grievances and exasperation did the Eagles give Owens his freedom.

If Owens hadn’t decided to take a stand and try to get the Eagles to adjust his contract based on what he did in 2004, the Eagles would have been happy to keep him around. Put simply, they “couldn’t wait to get rid” of Owens only after Owens made it clear that, without a new contract, he couldn’t wait to leave.

Beyond the 49ers and Eagles, it’s likewise a stretch to say teams “couldn’t wait to get rid of” Owens. In 2006, the Cowboys gladly embraced Owens, signing him to a three-year, $25 million deal. Two years later, the Cowboys didn’t cut him. They signed him to a new contract, worth $34 million over four years with a $12 million signing bonus.

Yes, the Cowboys cut Owens in 2009. But if they “couldn’t wait to get rid of” him, why did they sign him to a new deal following only two seasons with the team?

After leaving Dallas, Owens signed a one-year deal with the Bills, for $6.5 million. He wasn’t cut or suspended or otherwise gotten rid of before the contract ended and he became a free agent once again.

Ditto the following year, in Cincinnati. Owens signed a one-year deal, played one year for the Bengals, tore an ACL in the process, became a free agent again at the age of 37, and ultimately never played in another regular-season game.

To summarize, Owens spent eight years with the 49ers, and they would have kept him if he hadn’t had the ability to void the remaining years of his contract. He then spent two years with the Eagles, and they gladly would have extended the stay if he had gladly accepted the terms of a contract he quickly outperformed.

Owens then spent three years with the Cowboys, who ripped up the final year of a three-year deal and gave him a four-year contract one year before moving on. The Bills then signed him for a year, the Bengals signed him for a year, and that was that.

Was Owens a disruption at times? Yes. Should that be considered when assessing his Hall of Fame credentials? Yes, as long as the issues are being fully and properly fleshed out — and as long as the voters are considering the disruptions created by other players who made it to Canton in past years, including but not limited to the stabbing of a teammate in the neck with scissors on team property.

Absent an objective look at T.O.’s career and a comparison of his locker-room characteristics to other players who previously have made it to Canton, it appears that the narratives preventing Owens from enshrinement are nothing more than a lazy and convenient excuse for keeping Owens out, apparently because those who oppose him simply don’t care for him.

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2017 NFL Draft first-round order

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at the podium during the 2011 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 28, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images) Getty Images

The 2016 season is over, and the order for the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft is set.

The entire draft order will be announced when compensatory picks are determined and awarded. The 2017 draft is April 27-29 in Philadelphia.

Three first-round picks have already been traded, two in trades involving the top of last year’s draft. The Browns will pick at No. 1 and also own the Eagles’ pick at No. 12. The Titans own the Rams’ pick at No. 5 and their own pick at No. 18, and the Eagles own the Vikings’ first-round pick at either No. 14 or No. 15 via the Sam Bradford trade last summer.

A coin flip will be held between the Colts and Eagles to determine pick Nos. 14 and 15 because the Colts and Vikings had the same record and their opponents had the same winning percentage. In the past, such coin flips have been held at the NFL Scouting Combine.

The full first-round draft order is below…

1. Cleveland
2. San Francisco
3. Chicago
4. Jacksonville
5. Tennessee (via the Rams)
6. New York Jets
7. Los Angeles Chargers
8. Carolina
9. Cincinnati
10. Buffalo
11. New Orleans
12. Cleveland (via the Eagles)
13. Arizona
14. OR 15. Indianapolis
14. OR 15. Philadelphia (via the Vikings)
16. Baltimore
17. Washington
18. Tennessee
19. Tampa Bay
20. Denver
21. Detroit
22. Miami
23. New York Giants
24. Oakland
25. Houston
26. Seattle
27. Kansas City
28. Dallas
29. Green Bay
30. Pittsburgh
31. Atlanta
32. New England

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Bill Belichick: Great champions get off the mat and win

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and Tom Brady wait to be introduced during a news conference after the NFL Super Bowl 51 football game Monday, Feb. 6, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/Morry Gash) AP

Patriots coach Bill Belichick used a boxing analogy he learned early in his coaching career to describe what his team did at Super Bowl LI.

Belichick paid tribute to his old boss, Bill Parcells, and said this morning that Parcells used to tell his teams that the greatest fighters are the ones who can win after they’ve been knocked down.

“One of the things coach Parcells said that always stuck with me is in boxing, the mark of a great champion is the one who can get up off the mat and win. It felt like that’s what we did last night,” Belichick said.

Belichick said he’s known his team was special since last offseason, when he saw their work ethic and their commitment.

“They earned it all the way, from OTAs to training camp, all through the regular season, 14 wins, three more in the playoffs, and we handled adversity all the way. I couldn’t be prouder of these guys,” Belichick said. “They just compete and don’t stop competing, and we saw that last night. What everybody saw last night in the fourth quarter and overtime from the New England Patriots is what I’ve seen for the last seven months. I’m very proud to be the coach of this group.”

No one can dispute that these Patriots are great champions, and champions who can take a punch and hit back.

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Tom Brady filmed commercial with fifth ring before the Super Bowl

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates after winning Super Bowl 51 against the Atlanta Falcons at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. The New England Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-28.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

Tom Brady does not worry about jinxes.

Brady, the Patriots’ quarterback who won his fifth Super Bowl ring on Sunday night, filmed a commercial showing him with his fifth ring before the game.

In the ad, for Shields MRI, Brady is asked to take off his jewelry before getting an MRI and takes off four Super Bowl rings. He’s then asked if that’s all and answers, “No, I forgot this one,” as he produces a fifth ring. “It’s kind of new,” he says.

When he’s told he’ll need a bigger locker for all his jewelry, Brady answers, “Roger that,” perhaps a tweak of Roger Goodell.

The commercial presumably would not have seen the light of day if the Patriots had lost Super Bowl LI. But some superstitious players wouldn’t have even filmed a commercial that presumed they would win the Super Bowl in advance. Brady was confident enough to do it.

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Tom Brady wins his fourth Super Bowl MVP award

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates after James White #28 scored a touchdown during over time of Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. The Patriots defeat the Falcons 34-28.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

After an incredible 25-point comeback and a Super Bowl-record 466 passing yards, Tom Brady has become the first player ever to win four Super Bowl Most Valuable Player awards.

Brady was the obvious choice for Super Bowl LI MVP after the Patriots beat the Falcons 34-28. Brady had previously won the MVP award at Super Bowl XXXVI, Super Bowl XXXVIII and Super Bowl XLIX.

Joe Montana is the only other player with three Super Bowl MVPs.

It was a game that saw Brady set Super Bowl records for completions and yards and extend his career Super Bowl records in every major statistical category including touchdowns, completions, attempts and passing yards, as well as games played.

Brady is the first quarterback to win five Super Bowls as a starter, and joins Charles Haley as the only players at any position with five Super Bowl rings.

In an incredible career, Tom Brady has just had his crowning achievement.

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Patriots come back for incredible Super Bowl LI win

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates during the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

Joe Montana might have had an argument. Before tonight.

Tom Brady just led the Patriots to a fifth Super Bowl title, with a 34-28 win in overtime against the Falcons which ought to cement his place as the coolest quarterback under pressure in the history of the game.

While running back James White plowed in with the game-winning touchdown run, it was Brady who defined the comeback.

No one had come back from more than 10 points in a Super Bowl, but no one has played Super Bowls the way Brady has.

He was 43-of-62 passing for 466 yards and two touchdowns. It was an incredible night of work after a flat first three quarters, which saw the Falcons build a 28-3 lead.

The Patriots won the coin toss and didn’t get the ball back, driving 62 yards in eight plays, leaving the Falcons looking gassed.

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PFT’s Super Bowl picks

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 03:  Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots during a practice session ahead of Super Bowl LI  on February 3, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Super Bowl arrives Sunday. Which means it’s time for me to quit going back and forth about who I think will win the game and finally make a pick and stick to it.

Whether MDS or I agree on the outcome of the Patriots-Falcons game doesn’t matter; he already has clinched the postseason contest, which is a nice bookend to his regular-season victory in our picks competition.

Still, everyone wants to get the last game of the season right, and either we both will — or we both won’t.

MDS’s take: The oddsmakers in Vegas are expecting this to be a high-scoring game, with the over-under set at 58.5, the highest ever for a Super Bowl. And I think it may be an even higher-scoring game than that.

Tom Brady and Matt Ryan aren’t just the media darlings during Super Bowl hype week, they’re the two best players in the NFL right now. Brady shook off his four-game Deflategate suspension to turn in what may have been his most impressive individual performance ever, while Ryan is expected to collect his first ever regular-season MVP award on Saturday night.

So how does this shootout play out? I see the Patriots and Falcons going back and forth in an exciting game, but the Patriots’ defense making a late fourth-quarter stop that turns out to make the difference. After a postseason full of dull games, I like the Patriots to win a classic at Super Bowl LI.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 35, Falcons 31.

Florio’s take: Patriots coach Bill Belichick has a history of concocting a defensive game plan that takes away what the opposing offense does best. It’s widely believed that, as it relates to the Falcons, Belichick will try to eliminate receiver Julio Jones.

Beyond Super Bowl XXXVI, where Belichick dared the Rams to run the ball and coach Mike Martz stubbornly didn’t, the template for this one possibly comes from Super Bowl XXV, when Belichick convinced the Giants defensive players that the way to outscore the Bills would be to let them run the ball.

“You guys have to believe me,” Belichick told his players, via David Halberstam’s The Education of a Coach. “If [Thurman] Thomas runs for a hundred yards, we win this game.”

It was hard sell, given that the team’s defense had been premised on shutting down the run. But Belichick got his players to embrace the strategy, and the Giants won the game by a single point.

While Belichick may not have spent the last two weeks lobbying the Patriots to let Devonta Freeman and/or Tevin Coleman to rush for more than 100 yards, Belichick is likely to ensure that the Atlanta passing game and running game won’t generate yardage in big chunks, forcing the Falcons to patiently work their way down the field and sustain drives and set up showdowns in the red zone, where New England’s defense has improved dramatically throughout the course of the season.

So it’s about more than taking away Jones. It’s about taking away quick-strike touchdown drives and shortening the game.

That’s why the New England offensive game plan will be critical, too. Running plays and short passes that simulate runs should be the preference, with Tom Brady showing the kind of patience that Belichick will try to force the Falcons to display. By keeping Matt Ryan and company on the sidelines for as long as possible, they’ll have fewer chances to wreak havoc or to get in the kind of a rhythm that has seen them rack up big leads in both playoff wins.

Ultimately, the goal will be to keep the game close and trust Brady and/or the defense to deliver with the championship on the line. That’s how the six prior Brady-and-Belichick Super Bowls have gone, with four of them going the way of the Patriots and the other two resulting in defeat only when Eli Manning managed two of the most impressive clutch throws the NFL has ever seen.

Florio’s pick: Patriots 27, Falcons 24.

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Full list of 103 players entering 2017 draft early

COLLEGE STATION, TX - OCTOBER 08:  Myles Garrett #15 of the Texas A&M Aggies waits for a play in the first half of their game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Kyle Field on October 8, 2016 in College Station, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL announced on Friday that 103 players have been granted early entry rights to the 2017 draft. The full list of those players appears below.

Jamal Adams, S, LSU

Alex Anzalone, LB, Florida

Budda Baker, S, Washington

Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

Garett Bolles, OT, Utah

Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida

Noah Brown, WR, Ohio State

KD Cannon, WR, Baylor

Devin Childress, WR, North Park

Michael Clark, WR, Marshall

Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State

James Conner, RB, Pitt

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt

Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU

Jerod Evans, QB, Virginia Tech

Jeremy Faulk, DT, Garden City CC

Tarean Folston, RB, Notre Dame

Isaiah Ford, WR, Virginia Tech

D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texas

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson

Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

Shelton Gibson, WR, West Virginia

Davon Godchaux, DL, LSU

Chris Godwin, WR, Penn State

Isaiah Golden, DT, McNeese State

Jermaine Grace, LB, Miami

Derrick Griffin, WR, Texas Southern

Chad Hansen, WR, Cal

Charles Harris, DE, Missouri

Carlos Henderson, WR, Louisiana Tech

Brian Hill, RB, Wyoming

Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech

Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina

Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State

Titus Howard, DB, Slippery Rock

Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC

Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida State

Aaron Jones, RB, UTEP

Josh Jones, S, N.C. State

Nazair Jones, DT, North Carolina

Sidney Jones, CB, Washington

Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami

Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee

Tim Kimbrough, LB, Georgia

DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame

Jerome Lane, WR, Akron

Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State

Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn

Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State

Keevan Lucas, WR, Tulsa

Marlon Mack, RB, USF

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech

Josh Malone, WR, Tennessee

Damien Mama, OL, USC

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State

Isaiah McKenzie, WR, Georgia

Deon-Tay McManus, WR, Marshall

Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

Jeremy McNichols, RB, Boise State

Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma

Al-Quadin Muhammad, DE, Miami

Montae Nicholson, S, Michigan State

David Njoku, TE, Miami

Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M

Marcus Oliver, LB, Indiana

Aaron Peak, DB, Butler County CC

Jabrill Peppers, LB/S, Michigan

Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma

Elijah Qualls, DL, Washington

Devine Redding, RB, Indiana

Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

John Ross, WR, Washington

Travis Rudolph, WR, FSU

Artavis Scott, WR, Clemson

Curtis Samuel, WR, Ohio State

Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M

Adam Shaheen, TE, Ashland

David Sharpe, OL, Florida

Garrett Sickels, DE, Penn State

JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC

ArDarius Stewart, WR, Alabama

Damore’ea Stringfellow, WR, Ole Miss

Teez Tabor, CB, Florida

Vincent Taylor, DT, Oklahoma State

Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford

Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina

Darius Victor, RB, Towson

Khari Waithe-Alexander, DE, Southern Illinois

Anthony Walker, LB, Northwestern

Charles Walker, DL, Oklahoma

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

T.J. Watt, LB, Wisconsin

Marcus Williams, S, Utah

Stanley Williams, RB, Kentucky

Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

Howard Wilson, CB, Houston

Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida

Joe Yearby, RB, Miami

Ishmael Zamora, WR, Baylor



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PFT’s conference championship game picks

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 30: A fan of of the Green Bay Packers stays in his seat after the defeat against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on October 30, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

The season is getting closer and closer to its final act. The last Sunday with more than one game has arrived, and MDS and I are separated by only one game with three left.

Last week, I correctly picked three of the four games. MDS was 2-2. He’s 6-2 and I’m 5-3 so far in the postseason.

This week, keep reading to see what we think about the two games that will determine the Super Bowl participants.

Packers at Falcons

MDS’s take: Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers are playing the quarterback position better than anyone else in the league right now. So this game should be a shootout, with 300-plus passing yards from both quarterbacks, and 30 or so points for both teams. The difference, I think, will be the Falcons’ ability to make plays both on the ground and through the air. I expect Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman to combine for more than 100 rushing yards and to help the Falcons protect a late lead. The Falcons will win a close one and punch their ticket to the Super Bowl.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 33, Packers 30.

Florio’s take: Before Week One, I picked the Packers to get to the Super Bowl and win it. And then came the playoffs, where I had a chance to pick the Packers over the Giants, and didn’t. Next came the divisional round, where I had a chance to pick the Packers over the Cowboys. And didn’t. So now the Packers are one game away from making my September prediction at least half-accurate (the Ravens were my AFC choice), and I’m sorely tempted to pick against them again.

I’m stupid, but not that stupid. Aaron Rodgers has reached a higher level of performance, and he has sustained it regardless of who is running routes and catching passes. Yes, the Falcons have been great. The Falcons are good enough to advance. But in a toss-up game, I’ve got to go with the guy who made one of the best tosses we’ve ever seen to earn the spot in the NFC finals.

Florio’s pick: Packers 37, Falcons 31.

Steelers at Patriots

MDS’s take: Both of these teams’ offenses struggled in the divisional round, with the Patriots throwing as many interceptions in one game as they had thrown in 16 games of the regular season, and the Steelers failing to get to the end zone and winning on field goals. I think the AFC Championship Game may be a defensive struggle as well, perhaps with a defensive touchdown making the difference. In the end, I like the Patriots to win a close game and get to their seventh Super Bowl in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 24, Steelers 20.

Florio’s take: Bill Belichick likely will try to take away Antonio Brown, forcing the Steelers to run the ball into a two-gap front that could make Le’Veon Bell hesitate a little more than he already does before hitting the hole. Forcing the Steelers to sustain drives without mistakes on one hand and moving the ball largely at will against a defense that Tom Brady traditionally has managed to crack adds up to the Patriots emerging from the game with at least one more point than the Steelers.

Florio’s pick: Patriots 27, Steelers 20.

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Brady, Ben, Peyton are 14 of the last 16 AFC Super Bowl quarterbacks

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 10:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots and  Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers speak before the game at Gillette Stadium on September 10, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

For the 14th time in the last 16 years, the AFC Super Bowl team will be quarterbacked by Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger or Peyton Manning.

That became certain when Brady’s Patriots and Roethlisberger’s Steelers won this weekend to meet in the AFC Championship Game. Either Brady will start his seventh Super Bowl, adding to his own NFL record, or Roethlisberger will start his fourth. Manning also started four.

The only other quarterback to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl in the last 13 years was Joe Flacco, whose team topped Roethlisberger’s Steelers to win the AFC North in 2012, then beat Manning’s Broncos in the divisional playoffs and Brady’s Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Before that, the last other quarterback to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl was Rich Gannon, whose 2002 Raiders dethroned Brady’s 2001 Patriots as reigning AFC champions.

Sunday will be, incredibly, the 11th time Brady has started in the AFC Championship Game. It will be Roethlisberger’s fifth AFC Championship Game. Manning also started five AFC Championship Games.

Since 2001, the Patriots have advanced to 11 AFC Championship Games, the Steelers six (five with Roethlisberger, one without), the Colts four (three with Manning, one without) and the Broncos three (two with Manning, one without). So counting this year, those four teams will have accounted for 24 AFC Championship Game appearances since the 2001 season, with the other 12 AFC teams accounting for a combined eight AFC Championship Game appearances.

Here’s a list of the starting AFC quarterbacks in the Super Bowl for every season in the 21st Century:

2001: Tom Brady, Patriots.

2002: Rich Gannon, Raiders.

2003: Tom Brady, Patriots.

2004: Tom Brady, Patriots.

2005: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers.

2006: Peyton Manning, Colts.

2007: Tom Brady, Patriots.

2008: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers.

2009: Peyton Manning, Colts.

2010: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers.

2011: Tom Brady, Patriots.

.2012: Joe Flacco, Ravens.

2013: Peyton Manning, Broncos.

2014: Tom Brady, Patriots.

2015: Peyton Manning, Broncos.

2016: Brady or Roethlisberger.

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