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Joint NFL-NFLPA Statement on Wide-Ranging Changes to Drug Programs

Editor’s note: The following statement was released jointly by the NFL and NFL Players Association on September 19.

The NFL and NFL Players Association have reached agreement on a wide-ranging series of improvements to their programs on substance abuse and performance enhancing substances that include the use of third-party arbitration appeals of positive tests, implementation of testing for human growth hormone within the next few weeks and revised disciplinary standards for DUIs and marijuana.

“With these changes, the NFL and NFLPA once again have the finest and most comprehensive set of drug policies in sports,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said.

“Our collectively bargained drug policies set the standard for testing protocols and fairness in all of sport,” said NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith. “We are proud to continue a legacy of protecting the integrity of our game.”

Key revisions to the program are:

* HGH testing will be fully implemented this season. Information on testing procedures will be sent to clubs and players within the week, and testing should begin by the end of this month.

* Appeals of positive tests in both the substance abuse and performance enhancing drug programs (including HGH) will be heard by third-party arbitrators jointly selected appointed and retained by the NFL and NFLPA. Appeals will be processed more expeditiously under uniform rules and procedures.

* Discipline of players for certain violations in the 2014 league year will be adjusted by certain aspects of the new policies. Wes Welker of the Denver Broncos, Orlando Scandrick of the Dallas Cowboys and Stedman Bailey of the St. Louis Rams were eligible to return to their teams this week. Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns and free agent LaVon Brazill will be eligible to return after 10 games.

* Discipline for violations of the performance enhancing drug policy (including for HGH) will be modified.

o A first violation will result in a suspension without pay of up to six games depending on the nature of the violation. Use of a diuretic or masking agent will result in a suspension without pay of two games. Use of a steroid, stimulant, HGH or other banned substance will result in a suspension without pay of four games. Evidence of an attempt to manipulate a test will result in a suspension without pay of six games.

o A second violation of the steroid policy will result in a suspension without pay of 10 games. A third violation will result in banishment for a minimum of two years.

o Players who test positive for banned stimulants in the off-season will no longer be suspended. Instead, the player will be referred to the substance abuse program. Players who test positive for banned stimulants during the season will continue to be suspended without pay for four games.

* In cases involving discipline for violations other than positive tests (for example, a violation of law), the Commissioner will retain his current disciplinary authority. A player will have a right of appeal based on due process issues or a claim of disparate punishment. This appeal will be heard by a member of the existing CBA Appeals Panel.

* Two discipline stages will be added for marijuana positives, as follows: a first violation will result in referral to the substance abuse program, as is the case today. Subsequent violations will result in a two-game fine, a four-game fine, a four-game suspension, a 10-game suspension, and one-year banishment. The new stages are the two-game fine and the 10-game suspension. In addition, the threshold for a positive marijuana test will be raised from 15 ng/ml to 35 ng/ml, reflecting recent actions taken by other testing organizations.

* Discipline for DUI and related offenses will be increased. A first DUI offense, absent aggravating circumstances, will result in a two-game suspension without pay. A second offense will result in a suspension of at least eight games without pay. In either case, a more lengthy suspension may be imposed if there are aggravating circumstances.

* Players currently serving one-year suspensions for a marijuana positive will have their suspensions reduced to 10 games.

Previously, the Collective Bargaining Agreement ratified in 2011 utilized the policies in place under the prior CBA.

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PFT’s Week Three picks

Kaepernick Getty Images

Plenty of people connected to the NFL would prefer that the last week didn’t happen.  I’m part of that group, for entirely different reasons.

When it came to predicting the outcomes of games in Week Two, I had the worst showing I’ve ever had, in the time I’ve been picking games at PFT.  As it all disintegrated, I used language even more offensive than whatever Colin Kaepernick supposedly said on Sunday night.

Ultimately, I got five right and 11 wrong.  Eleven wrong.

MDS didn’t do much better, but his 8-8 showing puts him in the lead by three games, with a 17-15 mark.  I’m at 14-18 through two weeks.  Which is quite lame.

This week, we disagree on four games.  Which means I’ll likely be seven games behind MDS by next week.

Buccaneers at Falcons

MDS’s take: If the Bucs couldn’t beat teams quarterbacked by Derek Anderson and Austin Davis at home, they’re not going to beat a team quarterbacked by Matt Ryan on the road.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 31, Buccaneers 17.

Florio’s take:  The Falcons are better than I thought they’d be.  The Bucs aren’t.  While it’s unclear what Atlanta will do on the road in the division, holding serve at home against the Saints means they’ll hold serve against the Buccaneers.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 27, Buccaneers 17.

Chargers at Bills

MDS’s take: Are the Bills for real? That may be the toughest question to answer after the first two weeks of the season. They sure look like a much better team than any of us expected heading into 2014. I think they’re going to keep it going against a Chargers team that will have a tough time overcoming a tough game and a long road trip.

MDS’s pick: Bills 21, Chargers 20.

Florio’s take:  The Bills are off to a great start.  And we’ve seen how this movie ends.  While I’m not ready to assume a Western New York renaissance isn’t happening, the Chargers are even better than they were when they made the playoffs a year ago.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 30, Bills 21.

Washington at Eagles

MDS’s take: We’ll all have our eyes on Kirk Cousins getting the start and potentially playing well enough over the next few weeks to keep the job even after Robert Griffin III is ready to go. But I’m more interested in watching Nick Foles, who has made a lot of mental mistakes this year, the kind of mistakes he wasn’t making last year. Fortunately for the Eagles, they’ve managed to go 2-0 without Foles even playing very well. I think they should improve to 3-0 and Foles should have a better game than he’s played so far.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 24, Washington 12.

Florio’s takeDeSean Jackson returns home to see that the Eagles really are even better without him.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 30, Washington 17.

Texans at Giants

MDS’s take: The Giants are just not a good football team right now, and although Tom Coughlin has turned his team around after bad starts before, I don’t see it happening any time soon. Bill O’Brien has the Texans playing efficient and mistake-free offensive football and they’ll put plenty of points on the board against the Giants.

MDS’s pick: Texans 31, Giants 14.

Florio’s take:  And here’s where we find out the Giants aren’t quite as bad as perceived, and that the Texans aren’t quite as good.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 24, Texans 17.

Vikings at Saints

MDS’s take: The Saints are 0-2, but they’ll roll on Sunday over a Vikings team that could be ready to go into a deep dive.

MDS’s pick: Saints 34, Vikings 23.

Florio’s take:  Even without Adrian Peterson playing, the Saints will have a hard time slowing down the Vikings’ offense.  Not because the Vikings’ offense is great, but because the Saints’ defense isn’t.  Still, advantage home team.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 31, Vikings 21.

Cowboys at Rams

MDS’s take: The 1-1 Cowboys are one-eighth of the way to their fourth straight 8-8 finish, and I think what we’re going to see from them this year is more or less what we’ve seen through two games: They’ll beat bad teams like the Titans and lose to good teams like the 49ers. This week it’s the Rams, a bad team, so they’ll win.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 28, Rams 13.

Florio’s take:  The next time anyone talks about expanding the NFL, point out that this game could feature a quarterback showdown of Brandon Weeden and Austin Davis.  Advantage:  No one.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 14, Rams 13.

Titans at Bengals

MDS’s take: I’m really liking what I’m seeing of the Bengals, on both sides of the ball: Their defense is one of the most talented in football and the offensive line is giving Andy Dalton plenty of time to pass, which means he’s not being pressured into the mistakes that have plagued him in the past. Cincinnati might be the best team in the AFC.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 30, Titans 10.

Florio’s take:  Even without a full stadium to cheer them on, the Bengals should be able to roll over the Titans.  Maybe eventually the stadium will be full.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 31, Titans 20.

Ravens at Browns

MDS’s take: I went back and forth on this one. I like the direction the Browns are heading in, but I also think the Ravens, who looked so good last Thursday and have a long work week with extra time to prepare, are a better team from top to bottom. Go with the Ravens in a close, low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 16, Browns 13.

Florio’s take:  Yes, the Browns pulled off a thrilling win over the Saints.  But the New Orleans defense currently is flawed, deeply.  The Baltimore defense isn’t.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 17, Browns 13.

Packers at Lions

MDS’s take: The Lions are so thin at cornerback that Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson should have a field day. On the other hand, the Lions’ passing game has so many weapons that I’m not sure how long the Packers’ defense can slow them down. Go with the Lions in a close, high-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Lions 31, Packers 30.

Florio’s take:  A shootout could be looming in the Lions’ den, with both teams having high-powered offense and neither having a defense that can impose its will.  Maybe they should play on a 50-yard field.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 45, Lions 41.

Colts at Jaguars

MDS’s take: With both teams at 0-2, the loser of this game will be in such a deep hole (or, as Roddy White would say, a deep whole) that any hope of winning the AFC South would be just about over. Before the season some saw the Jaguars as potential playoff teams, but I think the Jaguars have a longer rebuilding job than that.

MDS’s pick: Colts 24, Jaguars 17.

Florio’s take:  It’s a must-win game for the Colts, who are playing a team that, based on its current talent level, must lose.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 30, Jaguars 23.

Raiders at Patriots

MDS’s take: Charles Woodson said it best: The Raiders suck. This is the easiest game of the week to pick.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 34, Raiders 20.

Florio’s take:  Remember that time when the Raiders were really good and the Patriots stunk?  Neither do I.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 48, Raiders 17.

49ers at Cardinals

MDS’s take: I went back and forth on this one. The Cardinals have looked better than most people thought, and the 49ers are coming off a major meltdown against the Bears. Does that mean there’s a new pecking order in the NFC West? I don’t think so. Uncertainty at the quarterback position in Arizona is a major problem, and Colin Kaepernick won’t throw three interceptions again.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 24, Cardinals 13.

Florio’s take:  The jury remains out on whether Colin Kaepernick is a franchise quarterback.  The verdict is in on whether the Cardinals can find a way to win, no matter who is injured or suspended or otherwise not available.

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 20, 49ers 17.

Broncos at Seahawks

MDS’s take: Super Bowl XLVIII I/II (that’s Super Bowl forty-eight and one-half for those of you who don’t speak Latin) will be a closer game than the ugly blowout we saw in February, but the ultimate result will be the same: The great defense will beat the great offense.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 20, Broncos 17.

Florio’s take:  At a neutral site in early February, the Seahawks won by 35.  At CenturyLink Field with a sudden sense of urgency following last week’s loss in San Diego, this one could be uglier.  But if I pick a margin larger than 35, I could get the Phil Simms treatment in Denver.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 34, Broncos 24.

Chiefs at Dolphins

MDS’s take: This is shaping up to be a long, tough season for the Chiefs. After the breakout year of 2013, the Chiefs are off to a bad start, they’re plagued by injuries, and they’re about to lose their third in a row.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 27, Chiefs 20.

Florio’s take:  They once played the longest game in NFL history.  This one can’t end soon enough for the road team.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 27, Chiefs 14.

Steelers at Panthers

MDS’s take: Kudos to the Panthers’ defense for the way it played on Sunday: Despite losing its best pass rusher, Greg Hardy, for off-field reasons on gameday morning, Carolina did a good job of slowing down a good Detroit passing attack. This Carolina team is better than most people realized.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 24, Steelers 13.

Florio’s take:  The Panthers have longer aspired to be like the Steelers.  Maybe the Panthers have gotten there.  The Steelers are trying to find their way back to that.  Maybe on Sunday night they should take a long look at the team on the other side of the field.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 20, Steelers 12.

Bears at Jets

MDS’s take: The Jets’ offense is a lot better than I expected it to be, and the Bears’ defense has some holes. But the Bears have perhaps the best pair of receivers in the NFL in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and I just don’t think the Jets have the cornerbacks to keep up.

MDS’s pick: Bears 28, Jets 27.

Florio’s take:  The Jets barely beat a bad Raiders team and blew what would have been a big upset at Lambeau Field.  Assuming that the Week Two Bears and not the Week One Bears make the trek to MetLife Stadium, the Jets won’t have to worry about losing the game by an ill-timed timeout.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 23, Jets 14.

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Week Two power rankings

Seahawks AP

1.  Seattle Seahawks (No. 1 last week; 1-1):  They lost in San Diego.  I guess that means they now suck.  And they’ll suck just enough to win the Super Bowl again.

2. Denver Broncos (No. 2; 2-0):  With the No. 1 team on the docket for Week Three, the opportunity is there to not lose by 35 points.

3. New England Patriots (No. 4; 1-1):  Cries of “the Pats are done” became “the Pats done kicked Minnesota’s ass” on Sunday.

4. Green Bay Packers (No. 3; 1-1):  They lose a spot for flirting for too long with a lesser team, but the Packers are still a top-five franchise.

5. Cincinnati Bengals (No. 6; 2-0):  Maybe when James Harrison said “ain’t no fun when the rabbit got the gun,” he was referring to the Bengals turning tables in the AFC North.

6. Carolina Panthers (No. 9; 2-0):  In a year when everyone thought they’d fade, the Panthers apparently are tightening their grip on the NFC South.

7. Philadelphia Eagles (No. 11; 2-0):  Undefeated despite playing at an average level at best, if this team ever finds the gas pedal, they could be the biggest threat to a Seattle repeat.

8. Arizona Cardinals (No. 12; 2-0):  It’s hard to remember this team is 2-0, probably because they should have lost both of their games.

9. San Francisco 49ers (No. 5; 1-1):  Who’s got it better than us?  Anyone who opened a brand new stadium by winning the first game there.

10. Baltimore Ravens (No. 14; 1-1):  The Ravens took refuge last week in football.  The Steelers wish they hadn’t.

11. New Orleans Saints (No. 7; 0-2):  Does anyone really think this team won’t have a seat at the postseason table?

12. San Diego Chargers (No. 17; 1-1):  For those who say the Chargers created the recipe for beating the Seahawks, it helps to have access to ingredients like Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, and Keenan Allen.

13. Chicago Bears (No. 19; 1-1):  The Bears provide Exhibit A for the idea that no one really knows what’s going to happen in any given game, in any given week.

14. Atlanta Falcons (No. 10; 1-1):  Who scored more points this week, Roddy White’s fantasy team or his reality team?

15. Indianapolis Colts (No. 8; 0-2):  The AFC South is the Colts’ division to lose.  And they are.

16. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 13; 1-1):  Mike Tomlin needed to trip a bunch of guys other than Jacoby Jones for the Steelers to have a chance in Baltimore last Thursday.

17. Detroit Lions (No. 15; 1-1):  Apparently, Donkey Kong Suh couldn’t get his flaming barrels through airport security.

18. Buffalo Bills (No. 26; 2-0):  The organization’s best week since January 1994 could become the best two weeks since January 1994.

19. Houston Texans (No. 24; 2-0):  Beating a mediocre franchise quarterback one week and a worse-than-mediocre franchise the next hardly means the Texans have fixed all their problems.

20. New York Jets (No. 16; 1-1):  An ill-timed timeout has helped obscure the fact that the Jets blew a huge lead.

21. Cleveland Browns (No. 31; 1-1):  If this team is still in the hunt after Josh Gordon comes back, things could get very interesting in December.

22. Washington (No. 25; 1-1):  With a defense capable of generating 10 sacks, maybe Joe Theismann could play quarterback for this team and win.

23. Dallas Cowboys (No. 27; 1-1):  After years of saying they’ll run the ball more, they finally did.  Maybe they should keep doing that.

24. Miami Dolphins (No. 20; 1-1):  Another win over the Patriots chased by another 19-point loss to the Bills.

25. St. Louis Rams (No. 28; 1-1):  Just think of how good this team could be if it had a quarterback.

26. Tennessee Titans (No. 21; 1-1):  At least no one pulled an Albert Haynesworth during the Cowboys’ return to Nashville for the first time since Andre Gurode’s forehead was shredded.

27. Minnesota Vikings (No. 18; 1-1):  For a franchise that has provided its fans with 50-plus years of disappointment, embarrassment, humiliation, and heartbreak, Monday was the lowest point yet.

28. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 22; 0-2):  “At least we’re not the Raiders” may be the best they can say this year.

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 29; 0-2):  “At least Greg Schiano’s not the coach” may be the best they can say this year.

30. New York Giants (No. 23; 0-2):  Seven years ago, the Giants reversed an 0-2 start with a Super Bowl win.  Seven years ago, the Giants had a lot more talent.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 30; 0-2):  Maybe Blake Bortles isn’t playing because they’re concerned the bubble wrap would screw up his throwing motion.

32. Oakland Raiders (No. 32; 0-2):  The Raiders aren’t as bad as I thought they’d be.  Somehow, they’re worse.

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Full text of Adrian Peterson’s statement about indictment in Texas

File photo of Minnesota Vikings Adrian Peterson after a season-ending loss to the Green Bay Packers in Green Bay Reuters

My attorney has asked me not to discuss the facts of my pending case. I hope you can respect that request and help me honor it. I very much want the public to hear from me but I understand that it is not appropriate to talk about the facts in detail at this time. Nevertheless, I want everyone to understand how sorry I feel about the hurt I have brought to my child.

I never wanted to be a distraction to the Vikings organization, the Minnesota community or to my teammates. I never imagined being in a position where the world is judging my parenting skills or calling me a child abuser because of the discipline I administered to my son.

I voluntarily appeared before the grand jury several weeks ago to answer any and all questions they had. Before my grand jury appearance, I was interviewed by two different police agencies without an attorney. In each of these interviews I have said the same thing, and that is that I never ever intended to harm my son. I will say the same thing once I have my day in court.

I have to live with the fact that when I disciplined my son the way I was disciplined as a child, I caused an injury that I never intended or thought would happen. I know that many people disagree with the way I disciplined my child. I also understand after meeting with a psychologist that there are other alternative ways of disciplining a child that may be more appropriate.

I have learned a lot and have had to reevaluate how I discipline my son going forward. But deep in my heart I have always believed I could have been one of those kids that was lost in the streets without the discipline instilled in me by my parents and other relatives. I have always believed that the way my parents disciplined me has a great deal to do with the success I have enjoyed as a man. I love my son and I will continue to become a better parent and learn from any mistakes I ever make.

I am not a perfect son. I am not a perfect husband. I am not a perfect parent, but I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser. I am someone that disciplined his child and did not intend to cause him any injury. No one can understand the hurt that I feel for my son and for the harm I caused him. My goal is always to teach my son right from wrong and that’s what I tried to do that day.

I accept the fact that people feel very strongly about this issue and what they think about my conduct. Regardless of what others think, however, I love my son very much and I will continue to try to become a better father and person.

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NFL morning after: A day to enjoy football

fans Getty Images

I don’t know about you, but I got sick of the NFL last week. Not sick of football, but sick of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy and Roger Goodell and the other people who were detracting from my enjoyment of football. So on Sunday, once the eight early games kicked off, I tuned all that other stuff out and just sat back and enjoyed football. It felt good.

We can’t and shouldn’t stop talking about and grappling with all that other stuff. But this column will be about football on the field, what I observed watching football all day Sunday.

We still don’t know anything. The best part of the first few weeks of the NFL season is the sheer unpredictability of it. In Week One the defending champion Seahawks looked unbeatable. And then on Sunday the Chargers beat them. The Saints were a trendy Super Bowl pick. They’re 0-2. The Bills were supposed to be terrible. They’re 2-0. The Texans had the worst record in the NFL last year. They’re 2-0. Tennessee won in a blowout in Week One, while Dallas lost in a blowout, and then Dallas blew Tennessee out in Week Two. Ditto for yesterday’s game in Minnesota: The Vikings won a blowout in Week One, the Patriots were run over by the Dolphins, and then on Sunday the Patriots dominated the Vikings in Minnesota.

Eventually this will all shake out and we’ll get a handle on how good all these teams are. I think the Seahawks are more like the great team they appeared to be in Week One than the mediocre team they appeared to be in Week Two. I think the Saints are going to bounce back from 0-2, and the Bills will come back to earth from 2-0, and the Cowboys’ defense won’t be as good as it looked on Sunday and the Patriots’ defense will be better than it was in Week One. But I can’t say for sure. That’s what makes these Sundays interesting.

Why are you punting? Andy Reid’s in-game decisions are baffling. On Sunday in Denver, with the Chiefs facing fourth-and-inches at midfield, Reid decided to punt. Why would you ever voluntarily kick the ball to Peyton Manning’s team, when you only need to pick up a few inches to keep the ball yourself? As expected, Manning proceeded to drive the Broncos down the field for a touchdown on the ensuing possession.

Raiders receiver James Jones had two fumbles on one play. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before: Jones caught a pass, fumbled just before he was pushed out of bounds, got back in bounds, picked up his own fumble, raced downfield and then got caught and fumbled again, and this time the Texans recovered. Jones’s stat line, just for that play: one reception for 26 yards, one fumble recovery, one fumble return for 15 yards, one lost fumble.

Is Rolando McClain’s head finally in the game? There’s never been any doubt that McClain has the talent to be a good NFL linebacker. That’s why the Raiders took him with the eighth overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft. But there have been many questions about whether McClain would ever stop getting into off-field trouble and start putting all of his energy into football. That’s why the Raiders got rid of him and he didn’t last in Baltimore after the Ravens picked him up. And then the Cowboys traded for McClain, and a lot of us laughed at Jerry Jones for that one. Jones may get the last laugh because McClain is playing excellent football for the Cowboys. McClain led the Cowboys with seven total tackles in Sunday’s win over Tennessee, and he had a sack, a tackle for loss, a pass deflection, a quarterback hit and an absolutely spectacular diving interception.

“I’m here to play football and honestly that’s all I care about,” McClain said after the game. The Cowboys are benefitting from McClain’s new mindset.

jamaalcharlesDurability remains a concern for Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs lost Charles to an ankle injury after he gained just four yards on two carries Sunday in Denver. Durability is what separates many of the most exciting running backs in NFL history from the truly great ones, and durability is what keeps Charles out of that “truly great” group. Charles has the highest career yards per carry average of any running back in NFL history, but he just hasn’t been able to log the carries that the great running backs get. Chiefs coach Andy Reid promised last week that Charles would get more touches, but Charles’s injury took the decision out of Reid’s hands and the ball out of Charles’s hands on Sunday.

The Lions are still searching for a replacement for Jason Hanson. For 21 years, the Lions had more stability at the kicker position than any other team in NFL history has had: Hanson was Detroit’s kicker from 1992 to 2012, and if he wasn’t the best kicker in the NFL he was always good enough that the Lions didn’t have much to worry about. That’s not the case anymore. Last year, in Hanson’s first season of retirement, David Akers had a lousy year as his replacement. This year the Lions spent a seventh-round draft pick on kicker Nate Freese, and he’s been miserable: He had a miss in Week One and went 0-for-2 on field goals in Week Two. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Lions cut Freese this week. Perhaps they can see what the 44-year-old Hanson is up to.

NFL athletes are amazing. We know this, but do we stop to appreciate it enough? Just a few minutes apart on Sunday I saw two things that made my jaw drop: First, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was pressured in the pocket, didn’t look like he could set up long enough to put everything into his pass, and effortlessly threw a deep ball 60 yards in the air. Then, Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones leapt into the air to block a field goal, scooped it up and raced 58 yards for a touchdown. If you saw someone like Newton flinging 60-yard passes at your local park, you’d be shocked at what you were witnessing. If you saw a 265-pound man like Jones running like a gazelle at the nearby high school track, you wouldn’t believe your eyes. It’s amazing what these men do for our entertainment.

DeMarco Murray is going to have an amazing year. Murray is running hard, the Cowboys’ offense is making him the focal point, and the offensive line in Dallas is one of the best in the NFL. Murray already has 285 rushing yards this season, and if he stays healthy I believe he’ll lead the league in rushing.

Philip RiversPhilip Rivers didn’t avoid Richard Sherman. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers never threw the ball in Sherman’s direction in the Packers’ Week One loss to the Seahawks, but Rivers wasn’t afraid to go after Sherman in the Chargers’ upset over Seattle on Sunday. In fact, Rivers targeted Sherman four times and completed all four of the passes he threw in Sherman’s direction. You have to pick your spots against Sherman and you’re not going to target him many more than four times a game, but kudos to Rivers for competing with the best — and winning.

But Sherman did avoid the media. It’s funny how some guys never stop talking when they’re winning, but suddenly get camera-shy when they’re losing. Sherman didn’t talk to reporters after Sunday’s loss to the Chargers, a rare moment of silence from one of the league’s loudest players.

Replay in the NFL still has its problems. The new system of allowing the referee to communicate with the officiating command center in New York has a major limitation: It only works if a play gets reviewed, and replay officials still sometimes fail to review plays that need to be reviewed. We saw that Sunday in San Diego, when Percy Harvin stepped out of bounds before scoring a touchdown, but was given the touchdown anyway — and the replay assistant didn’t initiate a review, as he’s supposed to do after any scoring play that is even close. Replay may be better now that the referees can talk to the head office, but it’s by no means perfect.

I can’t wait for next week. Next Sunday’s Super Bowl rematch, Broncos-Seahawks in Seattle, actually got more interesting to me when the Seahawks lost to the Chargers. Could the Broncos get revenge and get the great Seahawks off to a 1-2 start? Tune in Sunday, and give yourself a few hours to tune out everything else, and just enjoy some football.

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Week Two early inactives

Jordan Cameron AP

Every week we’ll bring you all the inactives from the early games in one post, constantly updated with the latest information. So check back often to see the full list as it becomes available.

Dolphins at Bills

Dolphins: C Mike Pouncey, DE Terrence Fede, LB Koa Misi, G Billy Turner, LB Jordan Tripp, T Jason Fox, DT Bruce Gaston

Bills: LB Keith Rivers, RB Bryce Brown, T Cyrus Kouandjio, G Cyril Richardson, TE Lee Smith, CB Ross Cockrell, S Jonathan Meeks

Lions at Panthers

Lions: T LaAdrian Waddle, DB Don Carey, S James Ihedigbo, QB Kellen Moore, WR Kevin Ogletree, WR Ryan Broyles, DE Larry Webster

Panthers: DE Greg Hardy, QB Joe Webb, RB DeAngelo Williams, LB Jason Williams, G Garry Williams, S Tre Boston, G Andrew Norwell

Falcons at Bengals

Falcons: T Jake Matthews, QB Sean Renfree, CB Javier Arenas, WR Courtney Roby, LB Tyler Starr, DE Cliff Matthews, C James Stone

Bengals: WR Marvin Jones, RB Rex Burkhead, LB Sean Porter, OL T.J. Johnson, OL Tanner Hawkinson, DE Will Clarke

Saints at Browns

Saints: S Marcus Ball, FB Erik Lorig, WR Joe Morgan, WR Nick Toon, DE Glenn Foster, CB Stanley Jean-Baptise, G Senio Kelemete,

Browns: RB Ben Tate, TE Jordan Cameron, LB Barkevious Mingo, CB Pierre Desir, WR LaRon Byrd, DL John Hughes, DT Ishmaa’ily Kitchen

Patriots at Vikings

Patriots: LB Jamie Collins, C Ryan Wendell, DE Michael Buchanan, CB Alfonzo Dennard, DE Zach Moore, WR Kenbrell Thompkins, RB James White

Vikings: RB Adrian Peterson, LB Brandon Watts, QB Christian Ponder, LB Michael Mauti, G David Yankey, WR Rodney Smith, DE Scott Crichton

Cardinals at Giants

Cardinals: QB Carson Palmer, LB Alex Okafor, DE Frostee Rucker, LB Glenn Carson, LB Marcus Benard, P Dave Zastudil, TE Darren Fells

Giants: WR Odell Beckham, T James Brewer, LB Devon Kennard, DL Marcus Kuhn, T Charles Brown, G Adam Snyder, DE Kerry Wynn

Cowboys at Titans

Cowboys: LB Justin Durant, DE Lavar Edwards, DE Anthony Spencer, T Darrion Weems, QB Dustin Vaughan, DT Ken Bishop, T Donald Hawkins

Titans: LB Zach Brown, WR T.J. Graham, WR Kris Durham, T Byron Stingily, DL DaQuan Jones, QB Zach Mettenberger, CB Brandon Harris

Jaguars at Redskins

Jaguars: S Johnathan Cyprien, TE Clay Harbor, RB Storm Johnson, T Austin Pasztor, WR Cecil Shorts, G Tyler Shatley, T Josh Wells

Redskins: LB Akeem Jordan, CB Tracy Porter, TE Jordan Reed, QB Colt McCoy, WR Santana Moss, G Spencer Long, DE Kedric Golston

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Week Two injury report roundup

Brandon Marshall, Leodis McKelvin AP

Over the course of the week, there are a lot of posts about the most prominent injured players but we know that you might not see all of them and that some others may fall through the cracks. As a result, we’ll comb through all the injury reports every Friday afternoon so that there’s one stop for all the news from every team playing on Sunday. So, without further delay, the first injury report roundup of the 2014 season.

Dolphins at Bills

It looked like the Dolphins would be without linebackers Koa Misi (ankle) and Phillip Wheeler (thumb) earlier this week, but Wheeler is probable. Misi is doubtful, as is guard Billy Turner (foot). Defensive tackle Randy Starks (toe), wide receiver Mike Wallace (hamstring) and tight end Charles Clay (knee) are all probable. Bills linebacker Keith Rivers (groin) is out, while tight end Lee Smith (toe) and safety Jonathan Meeks (neck) are doubtful. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore (groin) should be back after missing the opener.

Lions at Panthers

The Lions won’t have starting right tackle LaAdrian Waddle (calf) so either Garrett Reynolds or rookie Cornelius Lucas will start. Safety Don Carey (hamstring) is also out and safety James Ihedigbo (neck) is doubtful after missing the opener. Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams (thigh) is questionable after missing two practices, but Cam Newton (ribs) is expected to make his 2014 debut. Tackle Garry Williams (hip) and linebacker Jason Williams (thigh) are also questionable, which may leave the Panthers short on Williamses come Sunday.

Falcons at Bengals

The Falcons have a short injury report, but there will be one painful absence. Left tackle Jake Matthews (ankle) won’t play on Sunday. There are more players on the Bengals report, but the only big question mark is linebacker Vontaze Burfict (concussion). Wide receiver A.J. Green (foot) and defensive tackle Geno Atkins (feet) are both probable.

Saints at Browns

Safety Marcus Ball (hamstring) and fullback Erik Lorig (ankle) remain out for the Saints, but wide receiver Kenny Stills is probable to return from a quad injury. Browns tight end Jordan Cameron and linebacker Barkevious Mingo are both questionable with shoulder injuries. Running back Ben Tate (knee) won’t play. Defensive end Desmond Bryant (wrist) is also questionable for Cleveland.

Patriots at Vikings

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (knee) is probable, an upgrade from last week that could mean an uptick in playing time. Linebacker Jamie Collins (thigh), defensive end Michael Buchanan (ankle), center Ryan Wendell (knee), defensive tackle Chris Jones (ankle) and defensive tackle Sealver Siliga (hand) are all questionable for New England. Vikings defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (shoulder) and cornerback Xavier Rhodes (groin) are both questionable after being injured last weekend. Running back Adrian Peterson (non-injury related) was listed as probable, but that was before word of his indictment in Texas came down and his status is likely questionable at best.

Cardinals at Giants

Defensive end Frostee Rucker (calf) and linebacker Alex Okafor (thigh) are out for the Cardinals, while quarterback Carson Palmer (shoulder) is questionable. Running back Andre Ellington (foot) and punter Dave Zastudil (groin) are also questionable, but safety Tyrann Mathieu (knee) has been bumped up to probable. Wide receiver Odell Beckham (hamstring) remains out for the Giants, who will have to make a decision about punter Steve Weatherford (ankle) before Sunday.

Cowboys at Titans

Linebacker Justin Durant (groin), defensive end Lavar Edwards (knee), defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee) and tackle Darrion Weems (shoulder) will all miss the game for the Cowboys. Safety C.J. Spillman (groin) missed two days of practice and is questionable. Titans defensive tackle Mike Martin (hamstring) is questionable, but wide receiver Justin Hunter (knee) is good to go.

Jaguars at Redskins

Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts (hamstring) is likely to miss his second straight game, but running back Toby Gerhart (ankle) is probable. Safety Johnathan Cyprien (concussion), tight end Clay Harbor (calf), running back Storm Johnson (ankle) and tackle Austin Pasztor (hand) have all been ruled out. Washington will be without linebacker Akeem Jordan (knee), cornerback Tracy Porter (hamstring) and tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring), with defensive lineman Kedric Gholston (groin) listed as doubtful. The Redskins also listed kicker Kai Forbath (groin), safety Duke Ihenacho (ankle), linebacker Brian Orakpo (ankle) and tackle Tyler Polumbus (ankle).

Seahawks at Chargers

Running back Christine Michael (hamstring), linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis (hamstring) and cornerback Tharold Simon (knee) are out for the Seahawks. Safety Jahleel Addae (hamstring) and cornerback Chris Davis (ankle) are out for the home team while cornerback Brandon Flowers (groin) and linebacker Melvin Ingram (hamstring) are listed as questionable.

Rams at Buccaneers

Quarterback Shaun Hill’s status remains up in the air after the Rams listed him as questionable because of a thigh injury. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson (knee) and center Barrett Jones (back) won’t play. Defensive end Michael Johnson (ankle), cornerback Rashaan Melvin (ankle) and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (ankle) are all out for Tampa. Defensive end Da’Quan Bowers (abdomen), defensive end William Gholston (shoulder), guard Logan Mankins (knee), running back Doug Martin (knee) and safety Bradley McDougald (knee) are all questionable.

Chiefs at Broncos

The Chiefs placed three players on injured reserve this week, so they are short on serious injuries on the injury report. Running back De’Anthony Thomas (hamstring) is out and the only player listed as anything but probable. Denver listed guard Ben Garland (ankle) as doubtful and safety David Bruton (shoulder) as questionable on their own light injury report.

Jets at Packers

The Jets should have cornerback Dee Milliner (ankle) back after listing him as probable. Guard Willie Colon (calf) got the same tag while linebacker A.J. Edds (hamstring) is out. Tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) is a question mark for the Packers, but it looks like running back Eddie Lacy (concussion) and tight end Brandon Bostick (leg) are good to go.

Texans at Raiders

The Texans won’t have linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (knee), tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (foot) or safety Shiloh Keo (calf). Sixteen other Texans are probable, which makes two weeks of signs that Bill O’Brien’s injury reports will be of the voluminous variety. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew (hand), linebacker Kaluka Maiava (illness), tackle Matt McCants (knee) and linebacker Nick Roach (concussion) are all questionable for the Raiders.

Bears at 49ers

Wide receivers Brandon Marshall (ankle) and Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) are both questionable for the Bears while Josh Morgan (groin) is doubtful. The offensive line will be missing guard Matt Slauson and center Roberto Garza with both men out after suffering ankle injuries. The 49ers listed cornerbacks Tramaine Brock (toe) and Chris Culliver (concussion, stinger) as questionable. Tackle Anthony Davis (hamstring) has the same designation while center Marcus Martin (knee) is out for opening night at Levi’s Stadium.

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PFT’s Week Two picks

Brady Getty Images

OK, it was a little rough last week.  But MDS and yours truly remain tied after 16 games, with nine right and seven wrong.

This week, we disagree on five of the 16 games.

To see who we like and who we don’t like and where we disagree, keep on reading.

Steelers at Ravens

MDS’s take: It’s been a miserable week in Baltimore, and it won’t get any better for the Ravens when the Steelers come to town. There are major questions about the Ravens on both sides of the ball, and they’re about to start the season with two straight division losses at home.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 17, Ravens 10.

Florio’s take:  It’s hard enough to play on a short week.  It’s an impossible task to do it for the Ravens, who are reeling from the Ray Rice debacle.  The team is incompetent, the league is incompetent, and the coaches and players will have a hard time getting their minds right.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 17, Ravens 13.

(Friday update: Ravens won, 26-6)

Dolphins at Bills

MDS’s take: No team surprised me more in Week One than the Bills, who look like they’ve developed an offense that takes advantage of EJ Manuel’s strengths and a defense that has talent all over the field. Buffalo might just be a playoff team. Who saw that coming?

MDS’s pick: Bills 24, Dolphins 20.

Florio’s take:  Both teams were surprise winners in Week One.  The Bills are riding a rare wave of euphoria, with the team likely not moving for a long time, if ever.  If they can do what they did to the Bears in Chicago, they can find a way to hold serve at home against a division rival.

Florio’s pick:  Bills 24, Dolphins 20.

Jaguars at Washington

MDS’s take: Should we credit the Jaguars for coming out strong against the Eagles? Or should we say, “Same old Jaguars” because of the way they collapsed in the second half? I think it’s more the latter, and yet I was uninspired enough by Jay Gruden’s debut that I think Washington will lose its home opener.

MDS’s pick: Jaguars 23, Washington 20.

Florio’s take:  Washington’s offense is a work in progress.  It doesn’t work, and it’s not making much progress.  I think I used that last week for another team in the NFC East.  I may be able to use that every week.

Florio’s pick:  Jaguars 20, Washington 13.

Cowboys at Titans

MDS’s take: Week One made me re-evaluate my feelings about both of these teams. I figured the Titans’ offense was going to sputter with Jake Locker at the helm, while the Cowboys’ offense would be good enough to keep them in games despite a lousy defense. Instead, it was Tennessee’s offense that looked strong in Week One and Dallas’s offense that looked like a mess. We’ll see more of the same in Week Two.

MDS’s pick: Titans 28, Cowboys 17.

Florio’s take:  I underestimated the Titans.  I properly estimated the Cowboys.  For Dallas, an 8-6 finish will be needed to get the Cowboys back to 8-8 again.

Florio’s pick:  Titans 27, Cowboys 13.

Cardinals at Giants

MDS’s take: Both teams are coming off short work weeks after opening the season on Monday night, but the Cardinals are flying cross country and will be worn down by last week’s nail-biter, and so I’m going with the Giants in a close one.

MDS’s pick: Giants 21, Cardinals 20.

Florio’s take:  Once upon a time, the Cardinals couldn’t win on the East Coast.  That was before the Cardinals became good.  And before the Giants became really, really bad.

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 24, Giants 13.

Patriots at Vikings

MDS’s take: No team looked better than the Vikings in Week One, especially Cordarrelle Patterson, who’s a star in the making. And yet I just can’t see the Patriots opening with two straight losses. Bill Belichick will have the right game plan to stop his old quarterback Matt Cassel, and Tom Brady can’t possibly play as badly this week as he did in Miami last week.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 27, Vikings 17.

Florio’s take:  The Vikings haven’t beaten Tom Brady in three tries.  Last year, coach Mike Zimmer ended Brady’s passing-touchdown streak at 52.  The Vikings could christen their temporary home in memorable fashion, applying pressure early and often to Brady and finding ways to navigate a defense that’s no better than the St. Louis defense the Rams solved last week.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 24, Patriots 20.

Saints at Browns

MDS’s take: The Saints’ defense struggled mightily against the Falcons’ passing game. Fortunately for New Orleans, playing against Brian Hoyer, Andrew Hawkins, Travis Benjamin and Miles Austin is a lot easier than playing against Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White and Devin Hester.

MDS’s pick: Saints 24, Browns 10.

Florio’s take:  Once it appeared likely he’d be benched, Brian Hoyer quit worrying about getting benched.  And he played well.  Come Sunday, he’ll be worried again about being benched.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 34, Browns 17.

Falcons at Bengals

MDS’s take: Matt Ryan was sensational in Week One, but the Bengals’ defense is going to make life difficult for him. Cincinnati wins a close, low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 16, Falcons 13.

Florio’s take:  The Falcons are back.  The Bengals never left.  With banged up tackles and a defense that could have a hard time stopping the Cincinnati offense, the team that has been to the playoffs three straight times gets off to a 2-0 start.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 33, Falcons 24.

Lions at Panthers

MDS’s take: Both of these defenses looked great in Week One, but I have a feeling that had more to do with the Giants and Bucs having bad offenses. When they meet this week, look for a high-scoring game in which a returning Cam Newton does enough with his arm to lead his team to a 2-0 start.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 31, Lions 30.

Florio’s take:  Cam Newton will play.  But is he ready to play well?  He has missed too much time and may, unlike Derek Anderson, try to do too much.  The Lions, meanwhile, have too many weapons on offense.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 28, Panthers 23.

Rams at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: St. Louis looked so awful in Week One that I’m not sure I’d take the Rams on the road against anyone. The Bucs’ defense is going to make life rough for Shaun Hill.

MDS’s pick: Buccaneers 20, Rams 10.

Florio’s take:  Two teams with high hopes fell flat in Week One.  The Rams remain adrift without an effective quarterback.  If the Bucs can’t win this one, they won’t win many this year.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 14, Rams 13.

Seahawks at Chargers

MDS’s take: It’s almost unfair that the Chargers have to come off a short week and face the Seahawks, who are playing so well that I’d pick them to beat anyone, home or away. This game won’t be close.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 35, Chargers 14.

Florio’s take:  The Seahawks won’t lose many or any games at home.  If they didn’t have 10 days to get ready to face a team that has to play again only six days, the Seahawks would quite possibly lose their first road game of the year.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 27, Chargers 21.

Texans at Raiders

MDS’s take: Derek Carr may turn out to be a fine quarterback some day, but right now the Raiders are calling plays for him like they’re trying not to lose, rather than trying to win. When you play not to lose, you lose.

MDS’s pick: Texans 24, Raiders 7.

Florio’s takeMatt Schaub ended last year with the Texans on the bench.  When he sees them again, he’s already on the bench.  Which is good news for a Raiders team that has few clear opportunities to win games on the 2014 schedule.  This is one of them.

Florio’s pick:  Raiders 20, Texans 17.

Jets at Packers

MDS’s take: Rex Ryan had the right defense to stop Derek Carr in Week One, but Aaron Rodgers is not Derek Carr. Rodgers is going to feast on the Jets’ cornerbacks.

MDS’s pick: Packers 28, Jets 13.

Florio’s take:  Yeah, the Packers lost by 20 in Seattle.  Who wouldn’t have?  Green Bay remains one of the best teams in the league, and the Jets aren’t quite there yet.  Maybe New York should consider using Mike Vick more extensively, given that he was the guy more than a decade ago who reversed the aura of postseason invincibility at Lambeau Field.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 27, Jets 17.

Chiefs at Broncos

MDS’s take: Peyton Manning against a depleted defense is a mismatch. This looks like it’s going to be a long year for Kansas City.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 31, Chiefs 13.

Florio’s take:  When the Chiefs got off to a great start in 2013, two late-season games between Denver and Kansas City were much anticipated — and ultimately disappointing.  If the Chiefs couldn’t compete with the Broncos last year, it will be even harder this year, with the Broncos even better and the Chiefs now worse.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 38, Chiefs 13.

Bears at 49ers

MDS’s take: The 49ers looked better than I expected in their opener, and the Bears looked worse. It’s going to be an 0-2 start for Chicago.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 23, Bears 16.

Florio’s take:  While turf issues in Santa Clara could make this feel like a home game for the Bears, the 49ers have proven once again that any dysfunction or drama becomes forgotten as soon as the real games start.  Or maybe they just roughed up a horrible Cowboys team.  Either way, the christening of the Field of Jeans will turn out slightly better than the christening of the Flying Wasp.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 30, Bears 20.

Eagles at Colts

MDS’s take: The Eagles’ offensive line is suffering right now, but I don’t think the Colts, minus Robert Mathis, have the kind of defensive front that can capitalize. Nick Foles will have a big day and the Colts will drop to 0-2.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 30, Colts 20.

Florio’s take:  No matter the adversity, the Colts will be competitive as long as Andrew Luck is the quarterback.  Philly can afford to lose five or six games and still win the division easily.  The first loss comes on Monday night.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 27, Eagles 23.

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Full text of Bisciotti letter to Ravens PSL holders

[Editor's note: Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has issued a letter to the team's PSL holders regarding the Ray Rice situation. The full text of it appears below.]

Dear Ravens Stakeholder:

You deserve an explanation.

What happened with the Ray Rice incident? How could it come to this? Why didn’t we act earlier?

As a PSL holder, suite owner, sponsor and supporter, you have a stake in us. You have invested in us — emotionally as well as financially, trusted us, and believed in us. We value that trust and owe you full disclosure.

First, let us say that we did not do all we should have done and no amount of explanation can remedy that. What we can do now is share with you everything that occurred and vow to learn from all that has happened.

Here is how the situation unfolded, and here are our thoughts behind the decisions we made.

On the morning of Feb. 15, we learned that Ray and his then fiancé, Janay, had been arrested at an Atlantic City casino, and both had been charged with “simple assault” resulting from an altercation with each other. After the couple was taken to police headquarters, and after a report was written, they were allowed to leave together.

A number of Ravens’ representatives talked with Ray during the course of that day. His explanation was that after he and Janay had consumed a great deal of alcohol, they had had an argument and that they struck each other.

We at the Ravens organization issued a statement to the media that we were aware of the incident, that we had talked with Ray, and that he deserved the due process of law.

We then began our own process to discover as much as we could about what happened. We talked with representatives of the casino, the police who arrested the couple, the prosecutor and a lawyer who represented both Ray and Janay in the case. Soon after, the video of Janay and Ray coming out of the elevator became public.

We contacted the casino management and asked if there was video of the incident from inside the elevator that we could see. The casino would not share such video. We asked the local New Jersey police and the police refused as well. We asked the prosecutor’s office and that office refused. It was our understanding at that time that Ray’s attorney had not yet seen the video. NFL officials had been informed, and we know they were also trying to retrieve and/or see the video.

Assessing the situation at of the end of February, this is what we knew: A player who had been a model citizen in the community and terrific teammate for six seasons had been charged with simple assault against his fiancé. At that time, his fiancé Janay had been similarly charged.

Ray and Janay both told us nothing like this had happened before. He was showing great remorse; they were meeting regularly with our team chaplain and were diligently attending couples counseling.

In March, the prosecutor dropped the case against Janay, but elevated the charge against Ray from simple assault to aggravated assault. At this point, we decided to defer action until completion of the court proceedings. We stopped seeking to view or obtain a copy of the video. We halted our fact-finding. That was a mistake on our part.

In May, the prosecutor recommended, and the judge agreed, that Ray should be accepted into a pre-trial intervention program that will eventually have the assault charge dismissed from his record, pending a year of good behavior.

The police had seen video from inside the elevator. The prosecutor and the judge, who had also seen such video, allowed Ray into the program that would eventually clear him of the assault charge.

On June 16, Ray and Janay met with Commissioner Roger Goodell, who then announced on July 27 that Ray Rice would be suspended for the first two games of the season. Ray subsequently met with the media and answered questions.

Yesterday morning Sept 8, all of us saw the video from inside the elevator. It is violent and horrifying. I immediately came to the office and called a meeting with Dick Cass, Ozzie Newsome, John Harbaugh and Kevin Byrne. The meeting was relatively short. The decision to let Ray Rice go was unanimous. Seeing that video changed everything. We should have seen it earlier. We should have pursued our own investigation more vigorously. We didn’t and we were wrong.

We are moving forward and believe we can help put more of a spotlight on intimate partner violence, while increasing education and awareness to this issue to all in our organization. Our recently announced partnership with the House of Ruth is a start.

We view ourselves as a family. Like families, we have used tough love in the past (fines, benching and releases) with repeat offenders. Because of his positive contributions on and off the field over the last six years, Ray had earned every benefit of the doubt from our organization. We took everything we knew and decided to support Ray Rice until we could not.

We hope that Ray will continue to work to be the best husband, father and person he can be, and he will turn this awful situation into something positive. We also have learned a great deal and will continue to strive to be an organization and team you and Baltimore will be proud of. I am sorry we let you down.

Sincerely,

Stephen J. Bisciotti
Owner

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Week One power rankings

Wilson AP

1. Seattle Seahawks (No. 1 last week; 1-0): They need to get space ready for another banner.

2. Denver Broncos (No. 2; 1-0): To learn how to put a team away, maybe they should watch the film of Super Bowl XLVIII.

3. Green Bay Packers (No. 4; 0-1): They lost to the Seahawks by 20. Every other team ranked below them on this list would have lost in Seattle by more than 30.

4. New England Patriots (No. 3; 0-1): The last time the Pats looked that bad in Week One, they won the Super Bowl.

5. San Francisco 49ers (No. 6; 1-0): Nothing builds confidence for an offense like facing one of the worst defenses the league has seen in recent years.

6. Cincinnati Bengals (No. 9; 1-0): Maybe they’ll get a chance to lose another wild-card game, after all.

7. New Orleans Saints (No. 5; 0-1): When did Steve Spagnuolo gain 150 pounds and grow out his hair?

8. Indianapolis Colts (No. 8; 0-1): Andrew Luck thrives on overcoming adversity; with Robert Mathis gone for the year, Luck will have more adversity than he could ever want.

9. Carolina Panthers (No. 10; 1-0): If Derek Anderson doesn’t play another game this year, has he already won the comeback player of the year award?

10. Atlanta Falcons (No. 16; 1-0): Sunday’s win hardly means that the Falcons are destined for the playoffs, but a loss at some to the Saints in Week One could have meant the Falcons were destined to miss them again.

11. Philadelphia Eagles (No. 11; 1-0): The final score was predictable. The path for getting there surely wasn’t.

12. Arizona Cardinals (No. 13; 1-0): The first game of Larry Fitzgerald’s last season in Arizona could have him secretly counting the days until his last one.

13. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 15; 1-0):  Great first half.  Almost not great enough.

14. Baltimore Ravens (No. 7; 0-1): “Wait, we have to play this Thursday night?”

15. Detroit Lions (No. 19; 1-0): Nothing builds confidence for a defense like facing one of the worst offenses the league has seen in recent years.

16. New York Jets (No. 18; 1-0):  Most people watching this one hoped the feed would have been switched to Heidi.

17. San Diego Chargers (No. 14; 0-1):  If Carson Palmer had played that well against the Chargers a few years ago, he’d still be with the Raiders.

18. Minnesota Vikings (No. 23; 1-0):  Beats the Rams, move up five spots.  Beat the Pats, move up 10.

19. Chicago Bears (No. 12; 0-1):  The Bills don’t have to worry about moving to Canada.  With more performances like Sunday’s against Buffalo, Bears coach Marc Trestman may need to.

20. Miami Dolphins (No. 28; 1-0):  The last time the Dolphins beat the Patriots, they chased the victory by losing to the Bills.  Next up after the latest win over the Patriots?  The Bills.

21. Tennessee Titans (No. 31; 1-0):  The no-name offense and the no-name defense notch a big-time win.

22. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 17; 0-1):  Alex Smith’s 45.2 passer rating shows how smart it was for him to take the $45 million guaranteed.

23. New York Giants (No. 20; 0-1):  The sooner Tom Coughlin is on the hot seat, the sooner the Giants can rally around him and win the Super Bowl.

24. Houston Texans (No. 27; 1-0):  J.J. Watt is already earning his second contract.  It’ll be a while until Jadeveon Clowney earns his first one.

25. Washington (No. 21; 0-1):  Mike Shanahan got both a paycheck and vindication on Sunday.

26. Buffalo Bills (No. 30; 1-0):  With a win at Chicago and the team sold to Terry Pegula, it’s been the best week in Buffalo since the last AFC title game win.

27. Dallas Cowboys (No. 22; 0-1):  All that talk about drafting Manziel has really helped get the most out of Tony Romo.

28. St. Louis Rams (No. 24; 0-1):  When Shaun Hill is your guy, the postseason is not your destination.

29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 25; 0-1):  Maybe the quarterback of the past/future should also be the quarterback of the present.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 26; 0-1):  They forgot to show up for the second half.

31. Cleveland Browns (No. 29; 0-1):  They forgot to show up for the first half.

32. Oakland Raiders (No. 32; 0-1):  No matter how rough it gets for Derek Carr, his backup quarterback will never be the most popular man in town.

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NFL morning after: Football, it’s good to have you back

antoniobrown Getty Images

Isn’t it great to have football back in our lives?

It’s been seven long months since the Super Bowl, and I had forgotten just how fun, thrilling, disorienting and exhausting an NFL Sunday can be. If you, like me, are watching the Sunday Ticket package and multiple screens, these are just some of the things you were trying to keep an eye on in the first three hours after Sunday’s kickoff:

The Jaguars got off to an impossible start. Jacksonville was the biggest underdog of Week One, a double-digit dog at Philadelphia. So what did the Jaguars do? Just jump out to a 17-0 lead. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who had just four turnovers all season in 2013, had three turnovers in the first 20 minutes of Sunday’s game. An undrafted Jaguars rookie named Allen Hurns had 100 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. The Jaguars, who never led by more than two touchdowns at any point during the entire 2013 season, led 17-0 at halftime. It looked like it was going to be the craziest Week One upset we’ve ever seen.

And then the Eagles put a severe beating on the Jaguars in the second half, rolling to a 34-17 win. Foles ended up with 322 passing yards, LeSean McCoy ended up with 115 yards from scrimmage, and the Eagles looked every bit as good as we’d expect them to look in Year 2 of Chip Kelly’s offense. They just needed that first-half wakeup from the Jaguars.

J.J. Watt was dominant. I’m 38 and I’ve been watching football all my life, and I was trying to think of any players I’ve ever seen who dominate on defense like Watt, who turned in another great game for Houston in Sunday’s win over Washington. All I could come up with was Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White. Comparing anyone to L.T. and the Minister of Defense feels like sacrilege, but that’s the kind of player Watt is: He doesn’t just beat people, he makes them look silly. An offense can make keeping Watt away from the quarterback its top priority and Watt will still get there.

Here’s Watt’s stat line on Sunday: One sack, two tackles for loss, five quarterback hits, one pass deflection and one blocked extra point. He wasn’t just the best player on the field in Houston’s win over Washington, he was the best player in any NFL game on Sunday. He’s that good.

The Browns looked awful . . . then made a game of it. It’s difficult to overstate how pathetic the Browns looked in falling behind 27-3 at halftime in Pittsburgh. Their defense let Ben Roethlisberger roll up 211 passing yards in the first 20 minutes, and the offense looked like it would provide nothing of interest than waiting to see how long it would be until Brian Hoyer was benched for Johnny Manziel.

And then something amazing happened: The Browns actually played good football on both sides of the ball. Hoyer began to take command of the offense, rookie running back Isaiah Crowell scored two touchdowns, and within 20 minutes of the second half the score was 27-27. The Steelers did end up winning the game on a last-second field goal, but the Browns showed they can be a fun team to watch. Even when Manziel never leaves the bench.

Simultaneous overtime in Atlanta and Chicago. Three hours of football wasn’t enough, so two of the 10 early kickoffs on Sunday went into overtime: A surprising game in Chicago where the Bills jumped out to an early lead over the Bears, and a wild back-and-forth battle in Atlanta where the Saints and Falcons traded body blows like two boxers in a 12-round fight.

Fred Jackson had one of my favorite plays to win the game for the Bills in overtime, bursting 38 yards and pushing Bears safety Chris Conte out of his way at the end of the run before finally going out of bounds at the 1-yard line, setting up the Bills’ game-winning field goal. That was such a great run by Jackson, the oldest running back in the NFL at 33 years old. And it was a surprising upset for the Bills, who may just be a better team than anyone realized.

But the Falcons-Saints game was even better. Drew Brees completed 29 of 42 passes for 333 yards and a touchdown, but he was outplayed by Matt Ryan, who completed 31 of 43 passes for 448 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions. The Saints got the ball first in overtime, but Marques Colston fumbled, the Falcons recovered, and Matt Bryant hit a 52-yard field goal to win it. The Saints swept the Falcons last year and everyone is picking the Saints to win the NFC South this year, but the Falcons showed they’re serious about getting back on top of the division. That was a great football game.

The Patriots found themselves in last place. Of all the day’s upsets, the Patriots’ loss to the Dolphins may have been the most significant, because that result (coupled with the Bills and Jets winning) meant the Patriots are all alone in last place in the AFC East for the first time since before Tom Brady was New England’s starting quarterback. All offseason there’s been talk in Miami that free agency running back Knowshon Moreno isn’t looking good in practice, and so all Moreno did was put the Dolphins on his back and carry 24 times for 134 yards and a touchdown to lead the way. Maybe the Patriots will end this season where they’ve ended every season with Brady as their quarterback, atop the AFC East. But it’s not going to be an easy path.

No matter how many hundreds or thousands of football games we’ve watched, we witness something we’ve never seen before. That’s what Week One really comes down to, for me: It’s worth the wait, because it always delivers. I had never seen anything like Cordarelle Patterson’s stat line for the Vikings (three carries for 102 yards, three catches for 26 yards, two kickoff returns for 48 yards). I had never seen anything like Antonio Brown’s kick to the face of Browns punter Spencer Lanning. I had never seen anything like the complete meltdown of the Cowboys’ offense in the first half against the 49ers.

You’d think that after all these years, maybe we’d know what to expect from an opening Sunday of an NFL season. But we never do. Except that we know we’ll be entertained.

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Week One early inactives

Lardarius Webb AP

Every week we’ll bring you all the inactives from the early games in one post, constantly updated with the latest information. So check back often to see the full list as it becomes available.

Saints at Falcons

Saints: WR Kenny Stills, FB Erik Lorig, S Marcus Ball, CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, G Senio Kelemete, WR Nick Toon, NT John Jenkins

Falcons: QB Sean Renfree, CB Javier Arenas, LB Nate Stupar, DT Corey Peters, OT Ryan Schraeder, C James Stone, LB Tyler Starr

Bengals at Ravens

Bengals: WR Marvin Jones, RB Rex Burkhead, CB Darqueze Dennard, LB Sean Porter, OL T.J. Johnson, WR James Wright, DE Will Clarke

Ravens: CB Lardarius Webb, LB Arthur Brown, WR Michael Campanaro, OL John Urschel, OT Jah Reid, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, WR Deonte Thompson

Bills at Bears

Bills: CB Stephon Gilmore, RB Bryce Brown, T Cyrus Kouandjio, G Cyril Richardson, S Jonathan Meeks, TE Lee Smith, DE Jacquies Smith

Bears: QB David Fales, CB Kelvin Hayden, FB Tony Fiammetta, LB Khaseem Greene, OL Charles Leno Jr., DE David Bass, DE Cornelius Washington.

Redskins at Texans

Redskins: LB Akeem Jordan, CB Tracy Porter, WR Santana Moss, QB Colt McCoy, DE Frank Kearse, G Spencer Long, T Morgan Moses

Texans: TE Garrett Graham, QB Tom Savage, WR DeVier Posey, S Shiloh Keo, T Jeff Adams, LB Jason Ankrah, DT Louis Nix III

Titans at Chiefs

Titans: DL Mike Martin, WR Kris Durham, WR T.J. Graham, LB Akeem Ayers, T Byron Stingily, DL DaQuan Jones, QB Zach Mettenberger

Chiefs: QB Aaron Murray, DB Kurt Coleman, C Eric Kush, OL Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, DL Damion Square, CB Marcus Cooper

Patriots at Dolphins

Patriots: DE Michael Buchanan, DT Chris Jones, WR Aaron Dobson, C Bryan Stork, RB James White, G Josh Kline, LB Darius Fleming

Dolphins: LB Philip Wheeler, C Mike Pouncey, DE Terrence Fede, G Billy Turner, LB Jordan Tripp, DL Daniel Gaston, T Jason Fox

Raiders at Jets

Raiders: WR Brice Butler, QB Matt McGloin, CB Chimdi Chekwa, LB Nick Roach, G Tony Bergstrom, T Matt McCants, DE Shelby Harris

Jets: CB Dee Milliner, DE IK Enemkpali, S Josh Bush, CB Leon McFadden, T Ben Ijalana, WR Walter Powell, G Dakota Dozier

Jaguars at Eagles

Jaguars: TE Clay Harbor, RB Storm Johnson, WR Cecil Shorts, T Austin Pasztor, G Tyler Shatley, DE Chris Smith, OT Josh Wells

Eagles: WR Josh Huff, T Matt Tobin, QB Matt Barkley, RB Chris Polk, DB Jaylen Watkins, T Dennis Kelly, DE Taylor Hart

Browns at Steelers

Browns: CB Pierre Desir, RB Glenn Winston, CB Robert Nelson, LB Eric Martin, OL Paul McQuistan, DL Desmond Bryant, DL John Hughes

Steelers: QB Landry Jones, WR Martavis Bryant, WR Lance Moore, CB Brice McCain, OL Wesley Johnson, G Chris Hubbard, DL Daniel McCullers.

Vikings at Rams

Vikings: FB Zach Line, LB Michael Mauti, LB Brandon Watts, QB Christian Ponder, CB Shaun Prater, G David Yankey, TE MarQueis Gray

Rams: CB Trumaine Johnson, C Barrett Jones, RB Tre Mason, QB Case Keenum, S Maurice Alexander, TE Alex Bayer, DL Ethan Westbrooks

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Five questions: New Orleans Saints

Cooks AP

The Saints had become a trendy pick to make it back to the Super Bowl, five years since their lone NFL championship.

And then the Seahawks demolished the Packers to open the season.

But the Saints have yet to play.  There’s a chance that, if/when New Orleans takes care of the Falcons in their own building on Sunday, those who now presume the Seahawks will finish 19-0 may at least give the Saints a chance to stay within 10 points of the defending champs.

Whether the Saints ultimately can do that or better hinges on a few questions.  Five questions, of course.

1.  What kind of impact with Brandin Cooks have right away?

In recent years, the Saints have had a few receivers contribute right away as rookies.  None had the expectations currently foisted upon Brandin Cooks.

The 20th pick in the draft, Cooks gives the Saints something they haven’t had in recent years — a deep threat who can stretch the field and open up running lanes and underneath routes.

Before that can happen, Cooks will have to show that he can get off the line of scrimmage and put the pedal to the metal.  Regardless of what he did during training camp or the preseason, that test begins on Sunday at Atlanta.

2.  Is Mark Ingram in line for a career year?

In 2011, the Saints gave up a first-round pick in 2012 to jump back into round one and land running back Mark Ingram.  To date, his NFL career has been underwhelming, at best.

Ingram has 1,462 rushing yards.  Not in one year; in three.

The Saints opted not to pick up his option for 2015, making 2014 a contract year.  So far, Ingram has looked like the runner that he hasn’t been.  If he can play that way all year long, the Saints may have to pay more to keep him than the option would have cost.

And it will be money well spent.

3.  Will Jimmy Graham still be dominant?

He missed all of the offseason program, and then he signed a huge contract.  Now that Jimmy Graham finally has been paid, will he still be the guy he’s always been?

The question often comes up when a player cashes in.  For Graham, who has developed a reputation for not generating huge numbers in key games, it’s fair to at least wonder whether the money will change him.

For now, it’s safe to assume it likely won’t matter, and that Graham will continue to be one of the best tight ends in the league.

4.  Have Saints learned to win on the road?

In January, the Saints managed to win a road playoff game for the first time in franchise history.  While last year was last year and this year is this year (profound, I know), the Saints may not need to secure home-field advantage in the playoffs to win games once they get there.

At Philly against the Eagles, the Saints churned out an unlikely win.  The following week at Seattle, the Saints nearly pulled off another one.

Those achievements could serve the Saints well, starting on Sunday when they start the season at Atlanta.  And if the Saints can win enough road games during the regular season, they won’t have to try to win many or any in the postseason.

5.  How much better will the defense be?

In 2012, the Saints’ defense stunk.  Last year, coordinator Rob Ryan turned things around dramatically.

So what does Ryan do for an encore?  With safety Jairus Byrd joining Kenny Vaccaro and guy like defensive end Akiem Hicks ready to emerge, the defense may finally do enough to get Ryan an interview for a head-coaching job.

The Saints should hope it’s only an interview, and not an offer.

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Week One injury report roundup

Cam Newton AP

Over the course of the week, there are a lot of posts about the most prominent injured players but we know that you might not see all of them and that some others may fall through the cracks. As a result, we’ll comb through all the injury reports every Friday afternoon so that there’s one stop for all the news from every team playing on Sunday. So, without further delay, the first injury report roundup of the 2014 season.

Bills at Bears

The Bills should have wide receiver Sammy Watkins (ribs) and linebacker Brandon Spikes (knee), but running back Anthony Dixon (hamstring) and cornerback Stephon Gilmore (groin) are both questionable. The Bears ruled out third quarterback David Fales (shoulder), fullback Tony Fiammetta (hamstring) is questionable and the team expects safety Chris Conte (concussion) and center Brian de la Puente (knee) to be in the lineup.

Panthers at Buccaneers

The Panthers have only one man on their injury report, but it is a significant one. Quarterback Cam Newton (ribs) is questionable and the team is expected to make a final decision about his status on Sunday. Defensive end Da’Quan Bowers (abdomen), defensive end William Gholston (shoulder), safety Bradley McDougald (knee), cornerback Rashaan Melvin (ankle) and wide receiver Louis Murphy (back) are all out for Tampa, while running back Mike James (shoulder), cornerback Mike Jenkins (hamstring) and running back Jorvorskie Lane (hand) are listed as probable.

Bengals at Ravens

The Bengals have known for a while that wide receiver Marvin Jones (knee) would miss the game and they’ve also ruled out running back Rex Burkhead (knee). Cornerback Darqueze Dennard (hip) is questionable for what would be his regular season debut and the team expects linebacker Vontaze Burfict (hamstring), tight end Tyler Eifert (shoulder), running back Cedric Peerman (hip), guard Mike Pollak (knee) and tackle Andre Smith (concussion) to play. The Ravens have a shorter list of wounded players. Cornerback Lardarius Webb (back) is questionable and running back Bernard Pierce (concussion) is probable to start in place of the suspended Ray Rice.

Browns at Steelers

The Browns will try to reverse trends at Heinz Field without defensive end John Hughes (hamstring) and guard Paul McQuistan (ankle). Defensive tackle Desmond Bryant (wrist) is doubtful and would be replaced by Armonty Bryant if he’s unable to make it a two Bryant Sunday for Cleveland. Cornerbacks Joe Haden (foot) and Buster Skrine (thumb) lead a list of probable players. The home team won’t have wide receiver Lance Moore (groin) or cornerback Brice McCain (groin) and probably won’t have wide receiver Martavis Bryant (shoulder).

Jaguars at Eagles

Wide receiver Cecil Shorts (hamstring) missed the last two Jaguars practices and drew a questionable tag. Tight end Clay Harbor (calf), running back Storm Johnson (ankle) and tackle Austin Pasztor (hand) are all out, but it looks good for kicker Josh Scobee’s quad injury. The Eagles ruled out wide receiver Josh Huff (shoulder) and tackle Matt Tobin (ankle) and remain undecided on running back Chris Polk (hamstring) and cornerback Jaylen Watkins (hamstring). Wide receivers Riley Cooper (ankle) and Brad Smith (groin) are both probable.

Vikings at Rams

Defensive end Everson Griffen (illness) is questionable, but the Vikings expect him to play. The same is not true of running back Zach Line (ankle), linebacker Michael Mauti (foot) or linebacker Brandon Watts (knee) after all three were ruled out. The Rams won’t have cornerback Trumaine Johnson (knee) and center Barrett Jones (back) and the jury remains out for defensive end Eugene Sims (knee). Tackle Jake Long (knee) is expected to play his first game since suffering a torn ACL.

Patriots at Dolphins

Two relative unknowns from the Patriots — quarterback Tom Brady (calf) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (knee) — are listed as questionable, but all signs point to them playing. Defensive end Michael Buchanan (ankle) and defensive tackle Chris Jones (ankle) are both out for New England. Linebacker Philip Wheeler (thumb) won’t go for Miami, which is also waiting for center Mike Pouncey (hip) to get healthy. Guard Billy Turner (foot) is listed as doubtful.

Saints at Falcons

Wide receiver Kenny Stills (quad) is the only question mark for the Saints, who have rule out safety Marcus Ball (hamstring) and fullback Erik Lorig (ankle). The Falcons are not feeling many hard knocks on their 53-man roster, with defensive tackle Corey Peters (Achilles) and safety Dezmen Southward (concussion) listed as probable and comprising the entire injury report.

Raiders at Jets

The Raiders traveled across country to face the Jets on Thursday and ruled cornerback Chimdi Chekwa (knee) out on Friday. Linebacker Nick Roach (concussion) is questionable and everyone else on the roster is expected to play. In addition to cornerback Dee Milliner (ankle), the Jets ruled out safety Josh Bush (quadricep) and defensive end IK Enemkpali (foot). Antonio Allen, who is expected to see a lot of time at cornerback, is probable after a concussion.

49ers at Cowboys

The visitors ruled out tackle Anthony Davis (hamstring) and center Marcus Martin (knee) and they listed wide receiver Michael Crabtree (calf) as questionable, although Crabtree has said he expects to be on the field when he returns to his home state. As expected, defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee) is out for the Cowboys. So is tackle Darrion Weems (shoulder), while guard Zack Martin (foot), defensive tackle Terrell McClain (ankle) and wide receiver Terrance Williams (back) have all been listed as questionable. Quarterback Tony Romo (back) is probable and expected to play for the first time since Week 16 last year.

Titans at Chiefs

Titans quarterback Charlie Whitehurst (hand) is expected to back up Jake Locker and defensive tackle Mike Martin (hamstring) is questionable. Running back De’Anthony Thomas (hamstring) will probably have to wait to make his Chiefs debut after being listed as doubtful. Cornerback Marcus Cooper (ankle) and center Eric Kush (shoulder) are questionable, but linebacker Tamba Hali (knee) and safety Eric Berry (heel) are both expected to play.

Redskins at Texans

It’s a waiting game for linebacker Brian Orakpo (ankle) and the Redskins, who have already ruled out cornerback Tracy Porter (hamstring) and linebacker Akeem Jordan (knee). Tight end Jordan Reed (thumb) is also questionable. Tight end Garrett Graham (back) will be a game-time decision for the Texans and safety Shiloh Keo (calf) is also questionable. Texans coach Bill O’Brien listed 11 players as probable, perhaps as a nod to his mentor Bill Belichick.

Colts at Broncos

Versatile reserve offensive lineman Joe Reitz (ankle) is out and center Khaled Holmes (ankle) is questionable with the arrow pointing the wrong direction, so the Colts will be short at offensive line on Sunday. The defending AFC champs will be without linebacker Danny Trevathan (knee) for a while and guard Ben Garland (ankle) was also ruled out.

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Five questions: Carolina Panthers

camnewton AP

Every year, a team surprises to get in the playoffs.

But this year, it seems the Panthers are practically expected to miss them.

A team that won the NFC South and 12 games last year has taken hit after hit this offseason.

Left tackle Jordan Gross retired. Wide receiver Steve Smith was cut because he didn’t play well with others. Quarterback Cam Newton had ankle surgery that kept him out of OTAs. The entire secondary was either cut or allowed to leave in free agency.

That’s a lot of stuff. Seeing how they handle all those changes will determine whether they can post back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history.

1. Is the quarterback going to be OK?

As it pertains to Newton, that’s a question that supersedes the recent rib injury that has him limited in practice this week, and uncertain for Sunday’s opener in Tampa.

Newton missed practically the entire offseason program while recovering from ankle surgery, and that’s the greater concern.

In Washington, Robert Griffin III showed us last year how easy it is to skip OTAs and come in ready for the opener. While his injury might have been more serious than Newton’s, the time away is what will be missed.

Considering they have an entirely new receiving corps and plenty of doubt along the offensive line, there’s no sure thing when it comes to Newton.

2. Will Ron Rivera ever remember how to lose?

The Panthers were a mess a quarter of the way into last season, and it looked like Ron Rivera was on the verge of being fired.

He was 14-22 overall, and 2-14 in games decided by a touchdown or less.

Then he started going for everything, and his team responded, winning 11 of their last 12 games last year.

Now teams have had a year to study Rivera’s tendencies, and with a sore quarterback, going for every fourth down might not be as good of an idea.

3. Can that defense be good enough to stop everyone?

Maybe is the short answer.

Their front seven is as good as any in the league. Their back four goes the other direction. When you spend 21 percent of your salary cap on two defensive ends, and they produce the way Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy have, you’re always going to have a chance.

But other than Antoine Cason (who plays well in a Ron Rivera-Steven Wilks defense), the Panthers don’t have a corner who can cover the big receivers in the NFC South. And they replaced their safeties with a pair of divisional cast-offs, with Thomas DeCoud and Roman Harper.

The Panthers aren’t built to get in track meets with teams, but this secondary might not be able to prevent it.

4. Will they be able to run?

They better.

Given the iffy status of their quarterback, they’re going to have to put the ball in the hands of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart and let them make hard yards.

That’s a hard way to do business when the league limits contact during training camp, but that’s what the Panthers are going to have to do. Both have taken major paycuts in recent years to stay, but they need to earn every nickel for the Panthers to have a chance.

5. Can they get every break again?

Again, the Panthers forgot how to lose from October until the playoffs. And they caught so many fortunate bounces, it’s hard to imagine them repeating.

From the flag picked up to help them beat the Patriots to fumbles that kicked back their way, the Panthers were a fortunate team in many ways.

Simple math makes it hard to imagine them winning 12 again. And playing in the division they play in will make it that much harder.

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