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Week Four power rankings

Smith Getty Images

1. Seattle Seahawks (No. 1 last week; 2-1):  Richard Sherman is even better than the bye.

2. Cincinnati Bengals (No. 2; 3-0):  Winning at Foxboro on Sunday night will no longer be viewed as an upset.

3. Denver Broncos (No. 3; 2-1):  The team they need to be most worried about in the AFC resides in the AFC West.

4. Arizona Cardinals (No. 6; 3-0):  Nothing wakes up a dead nerve faster than a couple of great performances from Drew Stanton.

5. Baltimore Ravens (No. 7; 3-1):  Steve Smith arrived as a luxury; he has become a necessity.

6. Philadelphia Eagles (No. 4; 3-1):  For a team with almost no offensive line, they’re not bad.

7. San Diego Chargers (No. 8; 3-1):  The Chargers are glad the Jets are sticking with Geno Smith for their visit to San Diego.

8. Detroit Lions (No. 12; 3-1):  Sunday’s visit from Kyle Orton and the Bills is precisely the kind of game the Lions of recent years would have found a way to lose under current Buffalo defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.

9. Green Bay Packers (No. 14; 2-2):  For this week’s spelling bee, Aaron Rodgers will try “euonym.”

10. Indianapolis Colts (No. 16; 2-2):  Thirty years after the Colts escaped in the night to Indy, Baltimore’s current team will announce its arrival by kicking down the door.

11. San Francisco 49ers (No. 17; 2-2):  “Who’s got it better than us?  According to unnamed sources, everybody!”

12. Atlanta Falcons (No. 9; 2-2):  At this rate, offensive line coach Mike Tice will be suiting up to play.

13. Dallas Cowboys (No. 19; 3-1):  Glitz, glamor, glory.

14. Houston Texans (No. 20; 3-1):  Maybe J.J. Watt should play quarterback, too.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 10; 2-2):  Mike Tomlin doesn’t like being known as a players’ coach.  If Sunday’s performance continues, he may not be known as any kind of coach.

16. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 24; 2-2):  The biggest question from last night’s romp is this — how in the hell did they lose to the Titans?

17. New Orleans Saints (No. 11; 1-3):  At least Rob Ryan won’t be able to blame the lack of head coaching opportunities on his hairdo.

18. Chicago Bears (No. 13; 2-2):  The Bears should petition the NFL to play all remaining games on the road.

19. New England Patriots (No. 5; 2-2):  Tom Brady said he’ll retire when he sucks; when is the press conference?

20. Carolina Panthers (No. 15; 2-2):  Giving up 75 points in two games isn’t quite the best way to win the division again.

21. Buffalo Bills (No. 18; 2-2):  Quarterback change now, coaching change later.

22. Cleveland Browns (No. 22; 1-2):  No Manziel news during the bye week was the best news the Browns could have gotten.

23. New York Jets (No. 21; 1-3):  With games coming up against the Chargers, Broncos, and Patriots, the clock is ticking on Geno.

24. Miami Dolphins (No. 25; 2-2):  Maybe Joe Philbin should refuse to commit to Ryan Tannehill every week.

25. New York Giants (No. 26; 2-2):  Yep, being on the hot seat is the best thing that could have happened to Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning.

26. Minnesota Vikings (No. 29; 2-2):  Sixteen years ago, a rookie receiver helped the Vikings pull off a win for the ages at Lambeau Field.  Now, Teddy Bridgewater gets his chance to do the same thing.  If he can play.

27. St. Louis Rams (No. 27; 1-2):  Take a look at the next eight games on the schedule.  The wheels are about to come off.

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 32; 1-3):  The quarterback of the past and the quarterback of the future still isn’t the quarterback of the present?  Sure.

29. Washington (No. 23; 1-3):  Robert Griffin III or Kirk Cousins?  How about neither?

30. Tennessee Titans (No. 28; 1-3):  Ken Whisenhunt says he may have overestimated his team.  The rest of the world properly estimated them.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 31; 0-4):  Shad Khan is showing far more patience with his football team than his soccer club.

32. Oakland Raiders (No. 30; 0-4):  The bye week is favored by 9.5 points.

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NFL morning after: J.J. Watt for MVP

jjwatt AP

Andrew Luck threw for nearly 400 yards and Aaron Rodgers was almost perfect against the Bears and Steve Smith had a huge game against his old team on Sunday. But the NFL’s best player was Texans defensive tackle J.J. Watt.

And so I’d like to begin my J.J. Watt for MVP campaign right now.

It may be ridiculous to start talking about a Most Valuable Player when we’re just a quarter of the way through the season, but I want to begin this campaign early because as Watt’s self-appointed campaign manager, I’ve got an uphill climb. The overwhelming majority of NFL MVPs have been quarterbacks and running backs. The last defensive player to win the MVP was Lawrence Taylor in 1986, and the only time a defensive lineman won the award was when Minnesota’s Alan Page got it in 1971. The 50 MVP voters appointed by the Associated Press have a clear bias toward the offensive skill positions, and that bias is going to be tough to overcome.

But if Watt isn’t an MVP candidate, then we might as well say no defensive player is ever going to be an MVP candidate. All Watt does is change games, week after week. On Sunday against the Bills, Watt picked off an EJ Manuel pass and raced 80 yards for a touchdown in a play that completely turned the game around: At the time the Bills led 10-7 and were driving deep into Texans territory, looking poised to take a 17-7 lead. Instead, Watt’s touchdown gave Houston a 14-10 lead over Buffalo, a lead the Texans would not relinquish the rest of the way. Watt also had another pass deflection, and he put constant pressure on, hitting Manuel a whopping nine times. (Quarterback hits are an unofficial statistic, but a pass rusher who gets two or three of them in a game is having a big day. Nine in a game is ridiculous.)

What’s really amazing about Watt is that he’s a great player every week. Even though opposing teams are constantly game planning to stop him, to double team him, to run away from him, to throw quick passes so the quarterback can get rid of the ball before he collapses the pocket, Watt finds a way to disrupt the game. He won’t have nine quarterback hits and an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown every week, but he’ll do something great every week. One week he’ll have a couple sacks, another week he’ll have a forced fumble, the week after that he’ll knock down three passes. And sometimes he’ll do things you’d never expect, like catch a touchdown pass. He’s already done that once this year, and the Texans’ coaches have said they’ll continue using him as a goal-line tight end. (Watt and former Patriot Mike Vrabel are the only players since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to have both a touchdown catch and an interception return for a touchdown in the same season.)

So is it realistic to think Watt could win an MVP? It’s a long shot, but this might be the right season for it. It doesn’t look like any quarterback is going to approach the statistical totals that Peyton Manning reached last year, and although DeMarco Murray is off to a great start, I don’t think he has the durability to approach 2,000 yards. That means it’s a good year for someone at some other position to stake a claim to the MVP award. And with Watt being a disruptive presence on the defensive line while the 3-1 Texans occupy first place in the AFC South, there’s no better option than Watt.

Watt was my favorite player on the field on Sunday. Here are my other thoughts:

The Jets’ play calling makes no sense. On the first drive of Sunday’s game in New York, Chris Ivory was amazing: He ran nine times for 51 yards against a Detroit rush defense that previously hadn’t allowed any running back to gain 50 yards in an entire game all season. So, clearly, Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg had found something that worked and would stick with it, right? Wrong. Mornhinweg instead abandoned Ivory and didn’t call for him to run the ball even once on the Jets’ next two drives, both of which would go three-and-out. In the end, Ivory ran the ball just eight more times the rest of the game after that phenomenal performance on the first drive. Lions fans know all too well how many blunders Mornhinweg makes because Mornhinweg was the Lions’ head coach for two years in which Detroit went 5-27. Now the Lions have benefited from Mornhinweg’s mistakes.

Celebration flags are cheap. NFL players need to know the rules about excessive celebrations, and Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins should have known not to go to the ground to celebrate his touchdown on Sunday. Still, it’s kind of ridiculous that in the NFL, a minor celebration like the one Hopkins made after his score is a 15-yard penalty — the same penalty a player gets for a serious offense like taking a cheap shot that injures an opposing player. The NFL should cool it with the celebration penalties. Instead of giving 15-yard penalties for a quick celebration, make it a five-yard delay of game penalty if the player carries on with his celebration while the officials are trying to spot the ball for the next play, and if the celebration doesn’t delay the next play, then don’t penalize it. The rules of the No Fun League go too far.

Ryan Tannehill got what he needed. After a week in which Tannehill was threatened with the possibility of a benching, he responded with a big game, completing 23 of 31 passes for 278 yards, with two touchdowns, one interception and no sacks, in a 38-14 win over the Raiders. You might say he needed the threat of being benched to motivate him to play well. I’d say what he really needed was to play a bad team like the Raiders.

A game without a punt. Sunday’s Packers-Bears game was just the second regular-season game in NFL history without a single punt by either team. I still remember the first as one of the greatest games I ever watched, a 1992 Bills-49ers classic matching Hall of Fame quarterbacks Jim Kelly and Steve Young. This Packers-Bears game, however, wasn’t a particularly good one. Jay Cutler threw two interceptions that made Bears fans wish they had punted, and Green Bay blew Chicago out in the fourth quarter.

Cam Newton is not the same. Newton, who has been dealing with ankle and rib injuries, just isn’t the same player as he was when healthy during his first three seasons. Newton averaged 677 rushing yards a season during his first three years. This year, Newton has just 33 yards a quarter of the way through the season. When Newton isn’t a threat running the ball it’s easier to rein him in as a passer, and as a result Newton is on pace for career lows in touchdown passes and passing yards as well. After Sunday’s 38-10 loss to the Ravens, the Panthers have now been blown out two weeks in a row. They need the Cam Newton of old, and they need him soon.

Devin Hester continues to amaze. Hester continued to show that he’s more than just a kick returner for the Falcons on Sunday, catching five passes for 70 yards and a touchdown. But the reason he’s a future Hall of Famer is that he’s the greatest return man in history, and even though he didn’t break any long returns on Sunday, he affects the game when he doesn’t touch the ball because opposing teams are so concerned about kicking away from him that they kick the ball short. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer told the FOX broadcast team, “We don’t want it anywhere near Devin Hester,” and the Vikings’ first punt went just 24 yards as a result.

The NFL continues to surprise. When the Eagles lost to the 49ers on Sunday, it left just two teams — the inactive Bengals and Cardinals — undefeated. It seems like we say this every year, but this might be the craziest NFL season yet. Maybe even crazy enough for a defensive tackle to win MVP.

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Week Four early inactives

Jake Locker 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.

Lions at Jets

Lions: TE Joseph Fauria, LB Travis Lewis, CB Cassius Vaughn, T LaAdrian Waddle, DB Don Jones, QB Kellen Moore, DE Larry Webster

Jets: CB Dee Milliner, PR Jalen Saunders, DL Kenrick Ellis, G Dakota Dozier, LB A.J. Edds, T Ben Ijalana, DE IK Enemkpali

Bills at Texans

Bills: WR Marquise Goodwin, G Chris Williams, WR Marcus Easley, LB Randell Johnson, RB Bryce Brown, CB Ross Cockrell, T Cyrus Kouandjio

Texans: LB Jadeveon Clowney, S Shiloh Keo, S Eddie Pleasant, CB A.J. Bouye, QB Tom Savage, WR DeVier Posey, T Jeff Adams

Panthers at Ravens

Panthers: RB Jonathan Stewart, QB Joe Webb, S Tre Boston, RB Fozzy Whittaker, LB Thomas Davis, OL Andrew Norwell, TE Brandon Williams

Ravens: T Eugene Monroe, DT Timmy Jernigan, CB Lardarius Webb, WR Michael Campanaro, LB Arthur Brown, G John Urschel, DL Lawrence Guy

Packers at Bears

Packers: WR Jarrett Boykin, QB Scott Tolzien, CB Demetri Goodson, LB Carl Bradford, LB Brad Jones, C Garth Gerhart

Bears: C Roberto Garza, G Matt Slauson, LB Shea McClellin, CB Sherrick McManis, DT Jeremiah Ratliff, DE Jared Allen, OL Charles Leno

Titans at Colts

Titans: QB Jake Locker, WR Kris Durham, CB Brandon Harris, LB Akeem Ayers, T Byron Stingily, TE Taylor Thompson, DE Ropati Pitoitua

Colts: LB Jerrell Freeman, DT Arthur Jones, S Colt Anderson, WR Da’Rick Rogers, LB Andy Studebaker, C Khaled Holmes, G Hugh Thornton

Dolphins vs. Raiders (in London)

Dolphins: DT Randy Starks, C Mike Pouncey, LB Chris McCain, RB Knowshon Moreno, LB Koa Misi, G Shelley Smith, G Billy Turner

Raiders: WR Rod Streater, LB Sio Moore, QB Matt Schaub, WR Denarius Moore, LB Nick Roach, G Tony Bergstrom, T Matt McCants

Buccaneers at Steelers

Buccaneers: DE Larry English, LB Mason Foster, WR Robert Herron, QB Josh McCown, RB Mike James, T Kevin Pamphile,  G Kadeem Edwards

Steelers: LB Ryan Shazier, CB Ike Taylor, QB Landry Jones, WR Martavis Bryant, NT Daniel McCullers, OL Wesley Johnson, G Ramon Foster

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Week Four “Three and Out”

Rodgers Getty Images

The title implies that we’ve done this in prior weeks.  We haven’t.

During a long day of travel (I’m flying regularly now, which means I’m learning the realities of certain airlines deliberately overbooking a flight and playing a slow game of “Deal or No Deal” to clear the excess with travel vouchers!, even if it means some passengers won’t make it to their connections), a light flickered.  Since the entire week is spent cranking out story after story after story regarding the latest news (some of which lately still relates to, you know, the games) why not put together in advance of each Sunday’s games a look at each contest by presenting three questions/topics/nuggets/whatever in one place?

So we’ll give it a try.  Drop a comment on whether you’d like it to continue.  Ultimately, the decision will be made based on how many of you actually give it a read.

Or how many of you don’t.

Panthers at Ravens

1.  Who’ll run the ball for Carolina?

The Panthers have a bunch of running backs.  For a change, that’s a good thing.  Jonathan Stewart is unlikely to play with a knee injury, Fozzy Whitaker is doubtful with a thigh problem, and Mike Tolbert has landed on injured reserve, with designation to return. After missing a pair of games with a hamstring injury, DeAngelo Williams is ready to play.  And he’s ready for the blood and guts promised by former Panthers receiver Steve Smith.  Tauren Poole is ready to pitch in, after being elevated from the practice squad.

2.  Who the hell is James Hurst?

Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe will miss some time after minor knee surgery.  The next man up is a man who wasn’t drafted in 2014.

James Hurst, a rookie from North Carolina, gets the first opportunity to play at the spot that has been largely unsettled since Jonathan Ogden retired.  The best new for Hurst is that Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy remains on the rabbit-from-hat-or-other-orifice exemption list.

If Hurst struggles, look for the Ravens to instead reshuffle its deck of veteran blockers.

3.  Ravens should run, run, and run some more.

Sure, receiver Steve Smith will want to do as much damage as he can to the Carolina defense with the ball in his hands.  But with Hurst at left tackle and the Carolina defense giving up on average 6.3 yards per rush, why not just run the ball straight at the Panthers defense, with Smith serving as a decoy?

Steve may not like that very much, but if it helps ensure a third straight win, it will be hard for him to complain.

Packers at Bears

1.  Where have you gone, Jermichael?

Tight end Jermichael Finley still hasn’t joined a team after neck surgery in 2013.  And the Packers still haven’t replaced him.

Much-hyped youngster Brandon Bostick has done nothing in two games this year.  In fact, beyond Andrew Quarless (eight catches, 77 yards, one touchdown), the Packers tight ends have contributed not a single catch to the cause.

They need more from the position, if they’re going to continue to be among the best teams in the league.

2.  Is it really time to R-E-L-A-X?

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers apparently believes the Packers remain among the best teams in the league, advising antsy Cheeseheads to chill by spelling about a five-letter word this week:  Relax.

That’s fine, but yet another five-letter word will be appropriate if the Packers lose at Chicago and then falter against the Vikings on a short week:  Panic.

3.  When will Brandon Marshall’s ankle heal?

During a Week One loss to the Bills, star receiver Brandon Marshall emerged with an ankle injury.  It continues to hamper him, with Marshall not practicing at all this week and officially questionable.

With five more games until the bye week, Marshall may need a week off before then.

Bills at Texans

1.  Will Arian Foster play?

Enigmatic Texans tailback Arian Foster missed last week’s game with a lingering hamstring problem, and he could end up missing Sunday’s visit from Buffalo.  Officially, Foster is a game-time decision.  That’s the kind of uncertainty coach Bill O’Brien, a Bill Belichick disciple, surely loves.

Fantasy owners surely feel differently.  Either way, an answer will come by 11:30 a.m. ET.

2.  Can the Bills neutralize J.J. Watt?

Two weeks ago, Buffalo’s blockers handled Cameron Wake, rendering toothless one of the best pass rushers in the league.  The challenge will be even greater against Watt, a dominant defensive presence who continues to thrive even in a version of the 3-4 that was supposed to make him a little less conspicuous.

How conspicuous he is, or isn’t, on Sunday could go a long way toward helping the Texans surpass last year’s win total before the end of September.

3.  Can Fitzpatrick keep it up?

Sure, it’s only Week Four.  But the veteran quarterback already has a career high in completion percentage (64.0), yards per attempt (8.5), and passer rating (91.8).  He’ll want a little revenge against the Bills, who cut him last year.  The Bills may want a little revenge for all the money Fitzpatrick made before playing at a level that required the front office to move on.

Titans at Colts

1.  Charlie Whitehurst?  Really?

After the 2013 season, the Titans opted not to pay veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick $3.25 million for 2014.  Instead, new coach Ken Whisenhunt brought to town perennial backup and real-life Serpico Charlie Whitehurst.

Yes, Charlie Whitehurst.  The man with four career starts in nine seasons.  The man who has thrown three touchdown passes and four interceptions in his career.  The man who was yanked from a game in Seattle several years ago in favor of Tarvaris Jackson with a bad pec.

Whitehurst apparently will get the start on Sunday, if Jake Locker can’t go.  And the Colts may win by 50.

2.  Will Trent Richardson ever become a big-time back?

The Colts have a potent offense.  It would be even more potent if tailback Trent Richardson would become the guy the Browns thought he’d be in 2012 — and the guy the Colts thought he’d be last September.

So far, it hasn’t happened.  Richardson has 156 yards rushing through three games.  It’s not bad, but it’s not enough to justify giving up a first-round draft pick.

With each passing week, it’s looking less and less likely that Richardson will become the guy that made him a top-three pick in 2012.  And his career underscores the reality that only a sure-fire Jim Brown/Barry Sanders/Adrian Peterson type ever will be drafted that high in the future.

3.  Is Russell Wilson really better than Andrew Luck?

Speaking of the 2012 draft, Broncos cornerback Chris Harris declared after playing both the Seahawks and Colts only 14 days apart that Russell Wilson is better than Andrew Luck.  Last year, I said I’d take Wilson over Luck if building a team from scratch.  It would be a close call, but Wilson seems to be the ideal young quarterback to serve as the nucleus of a team for the next decade, or more.

That said, it’s hard to go wrong with either guy.  If Luck had landed with the Seahawks, Seattle probably would be the defending Super Bowl champions.  And if Wilson had landed in Indy, the Colts would likely be a perennial playoff team, with the possibility of doing a lot more, sooner than later.

Lions at Jets

1.  How short is the leash on Geno Smith?

When it comes to quarterback Geno Smith, coach Rex Ryan continues to support the starter.  And Ryan will continue to support Smith.  Right up until the point that Ryan doesn’t.

Ryan has shown that his words about starting quarterbacks can’t be trusted.  Previously, Ryan said Mark Sanchez would be the starter as long as Ryan is the coach.

The game is a simple one — Ryan wants to give Smith every chance to thrive.  If/when Smith continues to struggle and Rex’s margin for error to make the playoffs shrinks, that unconditional support unequivocally will be shifted to Mike Vick.

2.  When will Chris Johnson get back to being Chris Johnson?

Viewed as a coup when the Jets added the man who dubbed himself CJ2K, the signing of Chris Johnson has yet to result in rave reviews.  Through three games, Johnson isn’t even CJ2C, with 123 yards rushing and an anemic average of 3.5 yards per carry.

So maybe the Titans were smart to dump his $8 million salary.

3.  Where’s Eric Ebron hiding?

With the 10th pick in the 2014 draft, the Lions could have drafted defensive tackle Aaron Donald.  It’s a move that would have made sense, what with Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, and C.J. Mosley each in contract years.

Instead, they added another weapon for the offense in tight end Eric Ebron.  And Ebron has to date been lost in the shuffle.

Three catches, 38 yards.  Probably not the kind of production the Lions had envisioned.

Some thought he’d land with the Giants, who play in the stadium where the Lions will face the Jets on Sunday.  As it turns out, the Giants have found their Eric Ebron in Larry Donnell.

Dolphins at Raiders

1.  Is Ryan Tannehill about to be benched?

One of the strangest story lines of the week came from Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, who deliberately evaded multiple questions regarding whether Ryan Tannehill remains the starting quarterback.

While Philbin’s method smacks of madness, it’s no surprise that Tannehill could be under the gun.  Switched from receiver to quarterback while at Texas A&M under coach Mike Sherman, Tannehill spent his first two NFL seasons running Sherman’s offense.  Now with former Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor bringing Chip Kelly’s attack to town, Tannehill must adapt.

It’s possible that Matt Moore will be able to run this specific offense better.  It’s probable that Philbin will be fired if the team doesn’t make it to the playoffs.  Put it together and it’s certain that Philbin already is considering making a change after a pair of sluggish performances following an unlikely Week One win over the Patriots.

2.  Is Dennis Allen about to be fired?

The chatter about owner Mark Davis dumping Dennis Allen and elevating offensive line coach Tony Sparano ended when the Raiders gave the Patriots all they could handle in their own building.  But with the bye week looming and an 0-4 start a possibility, could Davis pull the trigger if the Raiders lose in ugly fashion?

It’s not likely, but it’s amazing how silent the media has gotten on the topic, after it reached a crescendo last week.  The Raiders still lost the game, and if they lose another before embarking on a post-bye schedule that goes Chargers, Cardinals, Browns, Seahawks, Broncos, Chargers, Chiefs, the Raiders could be spending Thanksgiving saying tanks for nuttin’ with an 0-11 record.

3.  Is London about to be bored by a bad game?

If the NFL wants to get folks in London addicted to the NFL, the NFL needs to send them a higher quality drug.  While Dolphins-Raiders would have been a great one 30 or 40 years ago, it’s a stinker in 2014.  It’s selection for London was fueled not by the quality of the matchup but the willingness of the Raiders to trade a home game for the much greater financial haul that comes from hosting a game at Wembley.  If the NFL wants to continue those financial hauls, it needs to export better teams, and better games.

Buccaneers at Steelers

1.  How bad are the Buccaneers?

Based on that Thursday night game against Atlanta, pretty bad.  Based on the preseason expectations of many, horrible.

Playing at Pittsburgh isn’t the way to turn things around, especially with the Steelers looking like maybe they’re in the process of becoming the Steelers again.

For now, the fan base isn’t getting too upset, still basking in the glow of bringing Lovie Smith back to Tampa.  If the losses continue, that eventually will change.

2.  Can the Steelers overcome defensive injuries?

For the Steelers to play more like they did in Week Three and less like they did in Week Two, they need to overcome plenty of injuries.  Cornerback Ike Taylor has a broken arm.  Linebacker Ryan Shazier has a bad knee.  Linebacker Jarvis Jones has been placed on injured reserve, with the designation to return.

Previously retired linebacker James Harrison is back, and linebacker Sean Spence will finally get a chance to shine after a devastating knee injury two years ago.

3.  Where’s Dri Archer?

Dynamic rookie Dri Archer entered the league with a belief that he’d contribute on special teams and as a receiver.  So far, he hasn’t done much.

But that’s primarily because he missed the last two games with an ankle injury, after generating only four yards from scrimmage and 29 return yards in Week One.  He’s healthy and ready to go on Sunday.  Ideally for the Steelers, the answer to this question against the Bucs will be, “Everywhere.”

Jaguars at Chargers

1.  Can Blake Bortles make a difference?

Blake Bortles gets a baptism by blast furnace in San Diego, where the 2-1 Chargers are waiting to fatten up their record against a Jaguars team that has been far worse than predicted.

But keep this in mind — the Chargers don’t have any meaningful tape to study on Bortles, beyond his second-half performance against the Colts.  For the first month or two of his time as a starter, that gives the Jags a real edge.

That may not be nearly enough to allow the Jags to outscore the Chargers, but maybe it means they won’t get blown off the field in San Diego.

2.  Can Donald Brown carry the rushing attack?

A disappointment for most of his career in Indianapolis, Brown broke out after the Colts acquired Trent Richardson.  Now a member of the Chargers, Brown is the last man standing after Ryan Matthews and Danny Woodhead suffered injuries.

So far, the 2014 season hasn’t gone very well for Brown.  He’s averaging two yards per carry on 40 attempts.  He’ll need to do a lot better than that.

Maybe they should trade for Trent Richardson.

3.  Wasn’t Keenan Allen supposed to be even better this year?

A rare rookie receiver to gain more than 1,000 yards last year, Allen was supposed to be even better this year.  So far, he’s not.  He’s averaging 36.3 yards per game, and fewer than 10 yards per catch.

So, basically, he’s not better.

Offensive coordinator Frank Reich has explained that Allen has made other contributions, like with blocking.  Until that’s a category in fantasy football, most won’t care.

Falcons at Vikings

1.  Is Teddy ready?

Entering last week’s game at New Orleans with the Vikings trailing 13-0, rookie Teddy Bridgewater helped the Vikings gradually make it interesting.  With a full week to prepare and a home game, Bridgewater has a real chance to get a win — especially since the Falcons don’t have much film to break down in an effort to shut down Bridgewater.

2.  Who replaces Kyle Rudolph?

Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner likes to throw the ball to the tight end.  But Kyle Rudolph just had sports hernia surgery.  While the depth chart suggests Rhett Ellison will be the next man up, look for Chase Ford to get the most chances to fill the void.

3.  How much more can Devin Hester do?

Last week, Devin Hester had a return touchdown and a rushing touchdown against the Bucs.  During his career, Hester has scored plenty of times against the Vikings.

Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen pointed out on Twitter this week that Hester has four return touchdowns and five receiving touchdowns against the Vikings, with an average distance per score of 58.2 yards.  Which means that Hester could have yet another big day.

Eagles at 49ers

1.  Does the first half/second half difference matter?

The Eagles have played great in the second halves of games this year.  The 49ers haven’t.

Philly coach Chip Kelly has downplayed the first half/second half disparity, but the truth is that he has figured out how to ensure that his players will be in better position to perform when the game means the most.  And other teams will be even more motivated to copy his techniques in order to help their players do the same.

Hopefully for cornerback Cary Williams, his next team won’t be one of those.

2.  Can the Eagles stop Colin Kaepernick?

Kelly spent time this week praising the 49ers quarterback.  Come Sunday afternoon, Kelly will expect his defenders to do something that will cause slightly more pain.

If any coach can figure out how to defend a mobile quarterback like Kaepernick, it’s Kelly.  Especially since other teams have managed to make Kaepernick look not quite so great, more often than not.

3.  What’s wrong with LeSean McCoy?

Whatever the reason — and it could be the injuries on the offensive line — LeSean McCoy hasn’t played like LeSean McCoy.

This year, McCoy has 60 carries for 175 yards through three games.  Last year through three games, he had 62 carries for 395 yards.  This year, McCoy has gained 2.9 yards per carry.  Last year, he gained 6.3.

With McCoy carrying a huge cap number, he’ll need to have huge production to justify it.  Otherwise, LeSean eventually could end up going the way of DeSean.

Saints at Cowboys

1.  Were we wrong about the Cowboys?

Owner Jerry Jones is crowing about his 2-1 team.  But let’s take a closer look at the whether their wins are worth really bragging about.

Dallas beat the Titans and Jake Locker, and then the Rams and Austin Davis, who actually racked up a 21-0 lead.  While wins mean plenty in the NFL, the Cowboys have yet to face a true franchise quarterback.  Tonight, they will.  If they beat Drew Brees and the Saints, then they can predict a whole return to the days of glory.

2.  Where’s the Dallas pass rush?

The Cowboys’ defense depends on the front four getting plenty of pressure on the quarterback.  Through three games, the Dallas defensive line has a grand total of 0.5 sacks.

The easy answer to the question is “Denver and Washington,” given the decision to cut DeMarcus Ware and to not bring back Jason Hatcher.  Regardless, the guys they’re putting on the field currently aren’t getting it done.

3.  Can Rob Ryan duplicate what he did to the Cowboys last year?

The easy answer to this question is “hell no.”  Last year, Dallas gained only 193 yards against Rob Ryan’s new defense.  This year, the Saints are giving up nearly twice that amount per game.

It’s still not clear what’s wrong with Year Two of the Rob Ryan attack.  Perhaps his return to Dallas, the site of the last job from which he was fired, will help him figure out how to make 2014 look more like 2013.

Even then, don’t expect Dallas to gain fewer than 200 yards.

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NFL Memo on Actions in Support of Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Efforts

[Editor's note: This memo was distributed to all 32 clubs on Friday, September 26.]

MEMORANDUM

To: Chief Executives
Club Presidents

From: Commissioner Goodell

Date: September 26, 2014

Re: Actions in Support of Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Efforts

In an attempt to keep you properly informed, we will provide a series of periodic updates regarding actions taken in support of our commitments to address incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault in the NFL and to set a positive example within our society.

First, earlier today we met for several hours with DeMaurice Smith and several NFLPA representatives to continue discussing issues of personal conduct, including training, education, family services, and the disciplinary process.

Second, we continued our meetings with a wide range of groups to better understand the issues relating to personal conduct and to inform a comprehensive examination of our policies in these areas. Earlier this week, we met with 11 former players, as well as individuals with law enforcement backgrounds, to discuss their views on standards of conduct, appropriate levels of assistance, and discipline. These meetings will continue.

Third, we met with senior representatives of the U.S. Army regarding the military’s approach to addressing issues of misconduct, including the provision of support services to families and victims. This support services model coincidentally is summarized in the attached op-ed piece, which appeared in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Fourth, beginning with last night’s game, we have provided NFL television promotional time for a PSA produced by NO MORE, a national campaign addressing domestic violence and sexual assault. This PSA ran during last night’s CBS Thursday Night Football telecast which reached more than 16 million viewers. The spot will run during all NFL game telecasts this weekend. The value of this promotional time is close to $3 million. We are evaluating how to use our broadcast promotional assets for the rest of the season in support of our efforts to address domestic violence and sexual assault on a broader basis.

Fifth, our partnerships with the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center have had immediate positive results. The Hotline continues to experience increased call volume and our financial support has allowed it to hire an additional 10 new full-time advocates, and 10 more will be hired by the end of next week. This will allow the Hotline to answer another 600-800 calls per day. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center has reached out to all of its coalitions to inform them of the NFL’s grant, which will support local hotlines in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories.

Many clubs have responded to the materials that were distributed to all clubs regarding resources in your communities related to domestic violence, sexual assault, and driving under the influence. Anna Isaacson and Deana Garner are available to discuss any questions you may have on these topics or materials. We will continue consulting with leading outside experts, law enforcement and judicial professionals, religious and business leaders, academics and players, both current and retired. As we do so, we will continue to provide you with information and look forward to a thorough discussion of these issues at the upcoming league meeting.

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Week Four injury report roundup

St. Louis Rams v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

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 injury report roundup for Week Four of the 2014 season.

Panthers at Ravens

Linebacker Thomas Davis (hip) and running back Jonathan Stewart (knee) are both questionable, though coach Ron Rivera gave Davis a better chance of playing on Sunday. Running back DeAngelo Williams (thigh) is probable. Ravens tackle Eugene Monroe is out after having knee surgery and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) is out as well. Defensive end Chris Canty (knee) is questionable to play while linebacker Terrell Suggs (thigh) is probable.

Packers at Bears

Linebacker Clay Matthews (groin) practiced all week and is probable to play for Green Bay in their NFC North clash. Linebacker Brad Jones (quad) and wide receiver Jarrett Boykin (knee/groin) are questionable. Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall (ankle) and defensive end Jared Allen (illness) are questionable after missing practice all week. Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (concussion), defensive back Sherrick McManis (quad), linebacker Shea McClellin (hand), guard Matt Slauson(ankle) and center Roberto Garza (ankle) have all been ruled out.

Bills at Texans

Bills wide receiver Marcus Easley and linebacker Randell Johnson are both out with knee injuries. The Bills will also likely be without wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (concussion), linebacker Keith Rivers (groin) and guard Chris Williams (back). Running back Arian Foster (hamstring) and punter Shane Lechler (hip) are both set to be game-time decisions.

Titans at Colts

The Titans won’t know until closer to kickoff whether quarterback Jake Locker (wrist) can play after returning for a limited Friday practice. The outlook is dimmer for defensive lineman Ropati Pitoitua and tight end Taylor Thompson, who are both doubtful with knee injuries. Tight end Delanie Walker (shoulder) is questionable. The Colts ruled out linebacker Jerrell Freeman (hamstring) and defensive tackle Arthur Jones (ankle) for the second straight week and guard Hugh Thornton (ankle) is doubtful.

Lions at Jets

Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle) is questionable after missing two days of practice. Tight end Joseph Fauria (ankle) and cornerback Cassius Vaughn (ankle) are both out, while it looks like another game on the sideline for right tackle LaAdrian Waddle (calf). The same outlook holds for Jets cornerback Dee Milliner (quad), but the team is more hopeful about wide receiver Eric Decker (hamstring).

Dolphins vs. Raiders (in London)

Defensive tackle Randy Starks (back) will miss his first game since joining the Dolphins and it looks like the team will wait another week for center Mike Pouncey (hip). Linebacker Koa Misi (ankle) and guard Shelley Smith (knee) were also listed as doubtful. Linebacker Sio Moore (ankle), quarterback Matt Schaub (non-injury) and wide receiver Rod Streater (foot) have been ruled out for Oakland. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew (hand) is set to make his return to the lineup.

Buccaneers at Steelers

The Bucs won’t have defensive end Larry English (hamstring) or linebacker Mason Foster (shoulder). Quarterback Josh McCown (thumb) is doubtful, leaving Mike Glennon to start, and defensive end Michael Johnson (ankle) is questionable. Pittsburgh will be without linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee) and cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm), while guard Ramon Foster (ankle) is questionable.

Jaguars at Chargers

Jaguars wide receiver Marqise Lee (hamstring) is out again this week. Tight end Mickey Shuler (illness) is also out, but the rest of the players on the injury report are probable. Chargers running back Ryan Mathews (knee), linebacker Manti Te’o (foot) and linebacker Reggie Walker (ankle) are all out. Center Rich Ohrnberger (back) is doubtful and tight end Ladarius Green (hamstring) is questionable after missing Friday’s practice.

Falcons at Vikings

Wide receiver Roddy White (hamstring) is expected back in the Falcons lineup, but Harry Douglas (foot) is questionable after a limited practice on Friday. Linebacker Chad Greenway (hand) will miss his first game since his rookie year with the Vikings. Cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) is questionable.

Eagles at 49ers

The Eagles will play without linebacker Mychal Kendricks (calf) again this week and center Jason Kelce (abdomen) will be out for several weeks. 49ers tight end Vernon Davis (ankle, knee) is headed for a game-time decision and joins tackle Anthony Davis (hamstring), safety Antoine Bethea (ankle), cornerback Tramaine Brock (toe) and tight end Vance Mcdonald (knee) with a questionable tag.

Saints at Cowboys

Safety Marcus Ball (hamstring), running back Mark Ingram (hand) and fullback Erik Lorig (ankle) remain out for New Orleans. Cornerback Patrick Robinson (hamstring), tight end Benjamin Watson (groin), center Jonathan Goodwin (ankle) and linebacker David Hawthorne (ankle/knee) are questionable. Cowboys defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee) is questionable, but expected to make his 2014 debut. Linebacker Rolando McClain (groin), defensive tackle Henry Melton (hamstring), defensive tackle Terrell McClain (concussion) and defensive tackle Davon Coleman (knee) got the same designation.

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PFT’s Week Four picks

Brady AP

After an abysmal 5-11 showing in Week Two, I turned it around even more dramatically than the Steelers, getting 13 of 16 games right in Week Three.

More important, I closed the gap with the recently-cocky MDS from three games to one, since I was 3-1 in the three games on which we differed.

This week, we disagree on five of 13 games.  So I’ll either be back six or up four or somewhere in between.

For all of the picks, keep doing what you’ve been doing for the last four paragraphs.

Giants at Washington

MDS’s take: Kirk Cousins is off to a great start, and I think he’s going to keep it going against the Giants, who look to me like the worst team in the NFC East. This may be the game that establishes Cousins as the right man to start in Washington — even after Robert Griffin III is healthy.

MDS’s pick: Washington 28, Giants 17.

Florio’s take:  The battle for the basement of the NFC East features a franchise quarterback who may be on his last legs against a guy who may supplant a franchise quarterback because of a busted leg.  Advantage guy who may still become a franchise quarterback.

Florio’s pick:  Washington 27, Giants 20.

Packers at Bears

MDS’s take: The Packers need an NFC North win after their unimpressive start. But they won’t get it.  The Bears’ passing game is going to be too much for Green Bay’s defense.

MDS’s pick: Bears 24, Packers 21.

Florio’s takeAaron Rodgers tells fans to R.E.L.A.X.  Packers fans say W.I.N.  Scoreboard says L.O.S.E.  A.G.A.I.N.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 20, Packers 13.

Bills at Texans

MDS’s take: Both of these teams have quarterbacks I don’t completely trust but plenty of talent elsewhere. But Ryan Fitzpatrick is more likely to play a mistake-free game than EJ Manuel, and that will make the difference.

MDS’s pick: Texans 20, Bills 13.

Florio’s take:  Ryan Fitzpatrick welcomes to town his old team.  The one that paid him a lot of money.  The one that will take a little of that money back this weekend, or at a minimum inflict a commensurate amount of pain.

Florio’s pick:  Bills 23, Texans 14.

Titans at Colts

MDS’s take: Both teams are 1-2, but the Colts are a more competitive 1-2 than the Titans. Indianapolis will get itself back into the AFC South race, while Tennessee will take a big step backward.

MDS’s pick: Colts 27, Titans 17.

Florio’s take:  After losing a pair of games they could have won, the Colts left no doubt in Jacksonville.  They’ll leave even less at home against the Titans.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 42, Titans 13.

Panthers at Ravens

MDS’s take: Steve Smith is promising blood and guts, and he’ll have a big day against his old team as the Ravens become the second straight AFC North team to put a hurting on the Panthers.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 34, Panthers 17.

Florio’s take:  There may not be guts, but there will be blood as Steve Smith gets a chance to make the Panthers pay something above and above the guaranteed money they paid him not to play in Carolina this year.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 30, Panthers 17.

Lions at Jets

MDS’s take: The Lions’ defense has played far better than anyone could have expected, a big credit to first-year coordinator Teryl Austin. Former Lions head coach Marty Mornhinweg hasn’t done much to get credit this season as the Jets’ offensive coordinator, and I like Austin’s unit to get the better of Mornhinweg’s unit in a low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Lions 17, Jets 7.

Florio’s take:  The Lions have a little Jekyll-and-Hyde thing going on, playing much better at home than on the road.  The Jets desperately need a win to avoid slipping to 1-3.  While they may not get enough to eventually save Rex Ryan’s job, they’ll put together enough on both sides of the ball to emerge with a win on Sunday.

Florio’s pick:  Jets 23, Lions 19.

Buccaneers at Steelers

MDS’s take: I don’t think the Bucs are as bad as they looked last Thursday. (Actually, I’m not sure if any team in NFL history is as bad as the Bucs looked last Thursday.) But I don’t think they’ll score enough to keep up with a Pittsburgh offense that has a great 1-2 punch via their Cheech and Chong backfield, and so I’ll pick the Steelers in a closer game than most people would expect.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 24, Buccaneers 20.

Florio’s take:  Baltimore isn’t the only AFC North location where a former NFC South star will get a chance to go “blood and guts” against the team that once gave up on him.  LeGarrette Blount will have a little something extra for the Bucs, who generally don’t have very much at all.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 27, Buccaneers 10.

Dolphins at Raiders

MDS’s take: If the NFL wants the British to embrace American football, it ought to send better games overseas than this one. Then again, with London getting two teams with struggling offenses, maybe the soccer fans will enjoy the low-scoring game. Ryan Tannehill is on the verge of getting benched, but he’ll out-play Derek Carr.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 10, Raiders 7.

Florio’s take:  Forty years ago, the Raiders ended Miami’s quest for a third straight NFL title with a thrilling, last-season touchdown in Oakland.  At the time, the notion that the ruby anniversary would be commemorated by a rematch in London would have been met with shouts of disbelief and/or accusations of sorcery.  It will take something less than sorcery for a Raiders team that feels pretty good about itself after giving the Pats a scare to beat a Dolphins team that quickly has plunged back into dysfunction.

Florio’s pick:  Raiders 16, Dolphins 13.

Jaguars at Chargers

MDS’s take: Blake Bortles will probably play better than Chad Henne, which is a plus for the Jaguars. But even with Bortles at the helm, there are huge problems on Jacksonville’s offense — and their defense and special teams aren’t very good, either. San Diego will win easily.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 31, Jaguars 17.

Florio’s take:  Blake Bortles gets his first career start a long way from home, against a team that deserves far more respect than it gets.  While the future may be bright for the Jags, the present continues to be grim.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 35, Jaguars 17.

Falcons at Vikings

MDS’s take: Teddy Bridgewater’s first start comes against a bad Atlanta pass defense, which means he should be able to put up some pretty good numbers. Just not as good as Matt Ryan, who has been playing outstanding football this year and will keep it going in a win over the Vikings.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 24, Vikings 20.

Florio’s take:  Teddy Bridgewater gets his first career start under much better circumstances than Blake Bortles.  The Falcons looked far better than they really are against the Bucs.  Sunday’s game will provide a correction that will come to many as a surprise — especially as the Vikings further come to grips with life without Adrian Peterson.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 24, Falcons 21.

Eagles at 49ers

MDS’s take: At some point the Eagles’ slow starts will catch up with them, and I think that point will be on Sunday in San Francisco, where the 49ers are desperate for a win.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 27, Eagles 21.

Florio’s take:  A team that plays really well in the second half visits a team that doesn’t.  Unless the 49ers race to a huge lead early, the Eagles could be in position to eventually wear the Niners down — and send them to 0-2 in their swanky new home.  Interesting as it would be to see the ensuing meltdown if the Niners fall to 1-3, it’s hard to imagine Jim Harbaugh not finding a way to get a win over his former Pac-10/12/Whatever rival, Chip Kelly.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 28, Eagles 27.

Saints at Cowboys

MDS’s take: The Cowboys are right on pace to finish 8-8 for the fourth straight season. They’ll be 2-2 after their defense gets lit up by the Saints’ offense.

MDS’s pick: Saints 34, Cowboys 20.

Florio’s take:  The Saints may not be as good as they were last year.  The Cowboys may not be as bad.  In the end, it may not lead to a different outcome than last year.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 35, Cowboys 31.

Patriots at Chiefs

MDS’s take: Tom Brady is off to a bad start and on pace for career lows in passer rating, completion percentage and touchdowns. Fortunately for Brady, the injury-plagued Chiefs defense isn’t very good. Brady should put up better numbers in Kansas City.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 28, Chiefs 20.

Florio’s take:  The Patriots are averaging fewer yards per play than any team in the NFL.  The Chiefs, perhaps too complacent in Week One against the Titans, will be buoyed by a raucous home crowd in prime time.  Step one:  Put heat on Tom Brady.  Step two:  Play ball-control offense.  Step three:  Win.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 20, Patriots 17.

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Week Three power rankings

Seahawks AP

1. Seattle Seahawks (No. 1 last week; 2-1):  Why couldn’t they have toyed with the Broncos like this in February?

2. Cincinnati Bengals (No. 5; 3-0):  It’s a lot easier to be among the NFL’s best when there aren’t playoff games to win.

3. Denver Broncos (No. 2; 2-1):  At least they won’t be intimidated if they play Seattle again in February.

4. Philadelphia Eagles (No. 7; 3-0):  How long until Cary Williams is doing shirtless situps in his driveway?

5. New England Patriots (No. 3; 2-1):  Given the way he secured the game-clinching interception, maybe Vince Wilfork should be moved to tight end.

6. Arizona Cardinals (No. 8; 3-0):  Bruce Arians isn’t the coach of the year; he’s the coach of the century.

7. Baltimore Ravens (No. 10; 2-1):  Given the way this team plays under duress, maybe the next conspiracy should be to start more conspiracies.

8. San Diego Chargers (No. 12; 2-1):  It’ll be hard to keep winning games if they keep losing running backs every week.

9. Atlanta Falcons (No. 14; 2-1):  They should have saved some of those points for later in the season.

10. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 16; 2-1):  At a time when the Panthers were becoming the Steelers, the Steelers showed the Panthers who the Steelers really are.

11. New Orleans Saints (No. 11; 1-2):  Before Drew Brees was slammed to the ground, it looked like the Vikings were applying a sleeper hold to the Saints.

12. Detroit Lions (No. 17; 2-1):  Stephen Tulloch’s injury proves that the Lions haven’t had nearly enough practice celebrating things.

13. Chicago Bears (No. 13; 2-1):  Two non-convincing road wins are still a lot better than two non-convincing road losses.

14. Green Bay Packers (No. 4; 1-2):  Maybe they just stink.

15. Carolina Panthers (No. 6; 2-1):  Maybe they should reinstate Greg Hardy so he can play on the offensive line.

16. Indianapolis Colts (No. 15; 1-2):  Yes, the Jaguars are so bad that blowing them out results in a one-spot drop in the rankings.

17. San Francisco 49ers (No. 9; 1-2):  That “Who’s got it better than us?” chant could soon become, “Who doesn’t?”

18. Buffalo Bills (No. 18; 2-1):  Yep, we know how the “Bills start strong in September” book ends.

19. Dallas Cowboys (No. 23; 2-1):  This team is still a long way from glorywhole.

20. Houston Texans (No. 19; 2-1):  I have a feeling I won’t be hearing from many of the folks who had complained that the 2-0 Texans were only No. 19.

21. New York Jets (No. 20; 1-2):  It’s just a matter of time before Mike Vick is playing enough to get injured again.

22. Cleveland Browns (No. 21; 1-2):  The schedule softens considerably on the other side of the bye week.

23. Washington (No. 22; 1-2):  When they trade RGIII, they probably won’t get three first-round picks and a second-round pick.

24. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 28; 1-2):  With games against the Patriots and 49ers looming, that win at Miami likely helped avoid taking an 0-5 record into the bye week.

25. Miami Dolphins (No. 24; 1-2):  Losing two games in a row after beating the Patriots has become a trend.

26. New York Giants (No. 30; 1-2):  One win over a team with a fraudulent 2-0 record doesn’t mean everything is fixed.

27. St. Louis Rams (No. 25; 1-2):  It takes a bad team to make the Cowboys look that good.

28. Tennessee Titans (No. 26; 1-2):  Week One feels like it was a long time ago.

29. Minnesota Vikings (No. 27; 1-2):  A season of quiet optimism has yielded to loud pessimism.

30. Oakland Raiders (No. 32; 0-3):  Maybe they won’t go 0-16, after all.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 31; 0-3):  With all the focus on the team’s crappy offense, it’s easy to forget they have a crappy defense.

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 29; 0-3):  Last week’s performance in the team’s new uniforms could make fans forget about all the horrible performances in the team’s original uniforms.

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Statement from Ravens regarding ESPN report

[Editor’s note: The Ravens have issued a statement in response to the ESPN report regarding the handling of the Ray Rice investigation. The full statement appears below.

We at the Ravens have promised to be open, candid and transparent with our fans, sponsors, ticket holders, and the general public.

This past Friday, ESPN.com’s “Outside the Lines” feature ran a story entitled, Rice case: purposeful misdirection by the team, scant investigation by NFL.

Later that day, we released this statement: “The ESPN.com ‘Outside the Lines’ article contains numerous errors, inaccuracies, false assumptions and, perhaps, misunderstandings. The Ravens will address all of these next week in Baltimore after our trip to Cleveland for Sunday’s game against the Browns.”

What follows is our response. Many statements and allegations from the article are attributed to unnamed “sources” and people “close to” the Ravens. In our determination to maintain transparency, our responses are provided by those directly involved, and each is named.

1. From the article: (the reporters) found a pattern of misinformation and misdirection employed by the Ravens and the NFL since that February night.

Steve Bisciotti (Ravens Owner): “As I stated in our letter to you on September 9, we did not do all we should have done, and no amount of explanation can remedy that. But there has been no misdirection or misinformation by the Ravens. We have stated what we knew and what we thought throughout – from the original report of the incident, to the release of the first videotape, to the release of the second videotape, which revealed a much harsher reality. As we said in our response to ESPN’s questions on Friday, it was our understanding based on Ray’s account that in the course of a physical altercation between the two of them he slapped Janay with an open hand, and that she hit her head against the elevator rail or wall as she fell to the ground.”

2. From the article: But sources both affiliated and unaffiliated with the team tell “Outside the Lines” a different story: The Ravens’ head of security, (Darren) Sanders, heard a detailed description of the inside-elevator scene within hours and shared it with Ravens officials in Baltimore.

Darren Sanders (Director of Security): “I did not receive an account of what happened in the elevator “within hours” of the incident. Within a couple of days, I asked the casino and the Atlantic City Police Department for a copy of any videotape of the incident. They said they could not release a copy of the videotape to me. Some days later—I believe it was on February 25—I spoke to an Atlantic City police official again, asking again whether I could get a copy of the tape or, if not, whether I could come to his New Jersey office and view it. He said I could not, but he did offer to view the tape and describe what he saw. (As I understand it, he was describing a raw video, not the “cleaned up,” “smoothed . . . out” version that appeared on TMZ.) He said that Ray and Janay both appeared to be intoxicated, and that they were involved in a heated argument that began outside the elevator and continued inside. As he described it, Janay appeared to initiate the altercation, but they both spit at and struck each other, resulting in Janay falling and hitting her head against the wall railing. The officer could not tell from the video whether Ray slapped or punched her, but Ray told me very clearly that he did not punch her. It was not clear from the officer’s account whether it was being intoxicated, being hit, or hitting her head against the railing that caused Janay’s apparent unconsciousness.”

3. From the article: …asked by the Sun whether the video matched what Rice had told them months earlier, Newsome conceded that it had. “You know, Ray had given a story to John [Harbaugh] and I,” Newsome said. “And what we saw on the video was what Ray said. Ray didn’t lie to me. He didn’t lie to me.”

Ozzie Newsome, (Ravens GM): “When I met with Ray to discuss the incident, I asked him one question: “Did you hit her?” He responded: “Yes”. Ray and I didn’t discuss details beyond that, because in my mind if he hit her, no matter the circumstances or explanation, he needed to own the situation. I immediately focused on Ray taking responsibility and making amends. I later said Ray didn’t lie to me because he told me he hit her, and that is what the video later showed—although the video was much more violent than what I had pictured.”

4. From the article: …the images (on the first videotape) horrified Ravens coach John Harbaugh, according to four sources inside and outside the organization. The Super Bowl-winning coach urged his bosses to release Rice immediately, especially if the team had evidence Rice had thrown a punch…

But Harbaugh’s recommendation to cut the six-year veteran running back was quickly rejected by Ravens management: owner Bisciotti, team president Cass and GM Newsome.

John Harbaugh (Ravens coach): “I did not recommend cutting Ray Rice from the team after seeing the first videotape. I was very disturbed by that tape, and I told people that the facts should determine the consequences. When I saw the second videotape, I immediately felt that we needed to release Ray.”

Ozzie Newsome: “Neither John nor anyone else ever recommended cutting Ray Rice before we saw the second videotape on September 8.”

5. From the article: “He motioned it to me,” (Kyle) Jakobe (trainer and friend of Ray Rice) said, making a closed fist and bringing it across his body. “He was like ‘Hey, this is what happened.'”

John Harbaugh: “Ray Rice never told me that he punched her. In June, when I spoke to ESPN The Magazine, it was still my understanding that Ray had not punched her and was acting defensively.”

Darren Sanders: “Ray told me he slapped her. He denied punching her.”

6. From the article: “Ravens executives — in particular owner Steve Bisciotti, president Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome — began extensive public and private campaigns pushing for leniency for Rice on several fronts: from the judicial system in Atlantic County, where Rice faced assault charges, to commissioner Goodell, who ultimately would decide the number of games Rice would be suspended…”

Dick Cass: “That statement is not true. In February, Darren Sanders made contact with the police and the prosecutor in an effort to obtain a copy of the video. Apart from Darren’s efforts, no one from the Ravens ever spoke or communicated with a prosecutor, a judge or anyone else employed by the judicial system in New Jersey regarding Ray Rice, with one exception. At the request of Ray’s defense lawyer, Ozzie, John and I sent a letter addressed to the Clerk’s office in support of Ray’s application for pretrial intervention. The letter was largely devoted to describing Ray’s extensive efforts in the community. According to the article, our letter was one of 30 such letters.”

7. From the article: Michael J. Diamondstein, (Rice’s attorney), who in early April had obtained a copy of the inside-elevator video and told Cass: “It’s f—ing horrible.” Cass did not request a copy of the video from Diamondstein but instead began urging Rice’s legal team to get Rice accepted into a pretrial intervention program after being told some of the program’s benefits. Among them: It would keep the inside-elevator video from becoming public.

Later in the article: Diamondstein began a series of conversations with Cass, a lawyer as well as the Ravens team president, about strategy on how to resolve Rice’s criminal case as quickly, and as quietly, as possible, team sources and other sources say.

Dick Cass: “I believe Ray’s criminal defense attorney mentioned the video to me in late May around the time that the court granted Ray’s application for pretrial intervention. I don’t recall his precise words, but he did say the video looked terrible. I did not ask Ray’s attorney for a copy of the video. I assumed the video would be terrible, because it would show a man striking a woman. But I also thought the video would show a physical altercation where Ray was defending himself with an open hand. My view about the video was also influenced by the fact that the prosecutor and the judge agreed to the ultimate dismissal of all charges against Ray after seeing the video. We had decided several months before to leave fact finding to the court system and the League. As we have said, that was a mistake, and I regret it.”

“I did not urge Ray’s defense attorney to follow any particular course of action. I told his attorney that he should do what he felt was in the best interest of his client. I had never even heard of ‘pretrial intervention’ until Ray’s attorney explained it to me. So yes, I agreed with him that pretrial intervention was in Ray’s best interest. Who wouldn’t? It meant the ultimate dismissal of all criminal claims without a trial and the risk of a guilty verdict. Of course, I did not want a criminal trial because of all the adverse publicity associated with a celebrity trial. But I did not think that pretrial intervention would prevent the video from becoming public. I assumed that would eventually occur in any event.”

8. From the article: Goodell gave Rice — the corporate face of the Baltimore franchise — a light punishment as a favor to his good friend Bisciotti. Four sources said Ravens executives, including Bisciotti, Cass and Newsome, urged Goodell and other league executives to give Rice no more than a two-game suspension, and that’s what Goodell did on July 24.

Steve Bisciotti: “I did not ask Roger Goodell to give Ray Rice no more than a two-game suspension. I did not make any request for a ‘favor’ or any particular outcome. I know and like Roger Goodell, but it is inaccurate to call us ‘good friends.’ The two of us have spent very little time together – as I recall, one round of golf and one dinner several years ago.”

Dick Cass: “I did not urge Roger Goodell or any other League official to take any particular action.”

Ozzie Newsome: “I never asked Mr. Goodell or anyone else at the NFL to do anything for Ray or for the Ravens.”

9. From the article: An avid golfer with a 10 handicap, Bisciotti played 27 holes on March 18 and another 27 holes on March 19 at Augusta National Golf Club, where he is not a member. Goodell, who is also an avid golfer, became an Augusta member in 2013. Goodell and Bisciotti have become good friends, and talk of golf is a lubricant of their friendship, several sources say.”

Steve Bisciotti: “I did not see or talk to Roger Goodell the entire time I was in Augusta.”

10. From the article: The Ray Rice case had become more serious. He now faced a potential prison sentence of three to five years. And yet, according to public statements made by Bisciotti and other team officials, the team decided at that point to stop seeking to obtain or even view a copy of the inside-elevator video.

Dick Cass: “We decided that we would await the outcome of the criminal case and the NFL disciplinary hearing and to leave the fact-finding to others. We should not have done that.”

11. From the article: Goodell presided over Rice’s disciplinary meeting. Ray and Janay Rice were accompanied by Newsome and Cass as well as by two NFLPA representatives. Goodell was joined by Adolpho Birch, the NFL’s senior vice president of labor policy, and NFL general counsel Jeff Pash. Several former executives and lawyers who represent players and coaches before the league said a player or coach facing discipline is rarely accompanied by the team GM and the team president in a hearing before Goodell and league officials. A league source insists it has happened numerous times before, but he did not provide examples.

Dick Cass: “We did accompany Ray and have accompanied other players in the past. We believe that our actions are not uncommon around the league. The article notes, for example, that one of the owners of the Steelers accompanied Ben Roethlisberger when he met with the Commissioner.”

12. From the article: “One source who spoke to Cass said he heard at least two weeks before Goodell announced the penalty that Rice would receive only a two-game penalty.”

Dick Cass: “That is not true. Neither I nor anyone at the Ravens knew what the penalty would be until the Commissioner sent his letter to Ray on July 23. I did believe that a two-game suspension was one of the likely outcomes, because as far as I knew that was the maximum penalty that had been imposed in a case similar to Ray’s.”

13. From the article: When the second TMZ video was released early the next morning…That afternoon, the Ravens terminated Rice’s contract….An hour after the Ravens released Rice, the NFL announced that Rice was suspended indefinitely.

Steve Bisciotti: “Yes, after seeing the second videotape, we took the pre-emptive step, ahead of the league, to do what we thought we had to do.”

Ozzie Newsome: “I had to tell Ray, and it was one of the hardest phone calls I have ever made.”

14. From the article: (After the Ravens released a letter to their season ticket-holders and sponsors explaining the steps they had taken…) Minutes later, Rice’s phone buzzed. He could scarcely believe what he was looking at– back-to-back text messages from Bisciotti. Rice read them aloud so everyone in the room could hear them:

Hey Ray, just want to let you know, we loved you as a player, it was great having you here. Hopefully all these things are going to die down. I wish the best for you and Janay.

When you’re done with football, I’d like you to know you have a job waiting for you with the Ravens helping young guys getting acclimated to the league.

Steve Bisciotti: “I did have an exchange of text messages with Ray, which he initiated. I felt awful about what had happened. I believed he was, at heart, a good person, that he was capable of redemption, and I wanted to tell him I would be supportive of him. Here are the texts, not as told to someone and then misquoted in the article, but verbatim”:

Monday September 8, 7:44 pm

Ray: I understand the decision but I am thankful for what you have done for me and my family. Me and my wife will continue to work on us and being better but I just wanted to say thank you for giving me a chance

Steve: I’m sorry we had to do this. I still love you and believe that you will be a great husband and father If you ever need to talk just call

Tuesday September 9, 10:27 pm

Steve: I just spent two hours talking to Ozzie. It was all about you. We love you and we will always figure out a way to keep you in our lives. When you are done with football I will hire you to help me raise Great young men. I still love you!!!

Ray: I know it’s a rough time for all of us I love all of you and that will never change for life!

Steve: I will help you make it a great life indeed. I give you my WORD

Ray: That means the world to me and my family we greatly appreciate you and thank you.

15. From the article: A few days later, after thinking about it more, Rice told friends he believed Bisciotti was suggesting that, as long as he kept quiet and stuck to the story that he had misled team officials and Goodell about what had happened in the elevator, the Ravens would take care of him down the road. He felt incredibly insulted.

Steve Bisciotti: “I cannot believe that Ray ever thought I was suggesting he keep quiet, when he got the texts or later on. They were not an insult. To the contrary, I think he knew these were messages from the heart, as were his responses to me. I wear my heart on my sleeve. Everyone knows that, including Ray.”

As always, we endeavor to keep you, the public and the fans, fully informed, and we promise to continue to do so. We may all wish this incident to be put behind us, to concentrate on how we can learn from it and apply the lessons to a more aware and sensitive society, but as it continues to warrant attention, we will address it with the utmost candor and openness. We hope to live up to the support you have given us.

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NFL morning after: Even in defeat, Cousins was Sunday’s star

cousins AP

He’s a backup quarterback whose team lost, and yet Kirk Cousins was the player who made the biggest impact on the NFL on Sunday.

Cousins, starting for Washington against Philadelphia because Robert Griffin III suffered a dislocated ankle last week, was excellent: He completed 30 of his 48 passes, threw three touchdowns, showed off a great arm on deep balls and nice touch on short passes, only had one interception and — maybe most importantly — felt the pressure so well and got the ball away so quickly that he was never sacked. Cousins totaled 427 yards on the day, topping Griffin’s career high by 98 yards.

Yes, Washington lost. But blaming Cousins for that would be silly. Washington lost because its defense allowed Nick Foles to throw for 325 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Not because of anything Cousins did, or failed to do.

What Cousins did was make a real case that he’s a better quarterback than RGIII.

Cousins is nowhere near as talented a quarterback as Griffin. Cousins doesn’t have Griffin’s athleticism (for that matter, no quarterback in NFL history is as good an athlete as Griffin, who was an Olympic-caliber hurdler before he left track behind to focus on football), and Cousins probably doesn’t have as good a natural arm as Griffin does, either. In their first two seasons together in Washington, Griffin was better than Cousins, and it wasn’t close. Anyone calling for Cousins to be the starter in the last two years was probably more interested in stirring up a quarterback controversy than in accurately assessing the state of the quarterback position in Washington.

But things have changed. Griffin suffering yet another injury last week has only solidified the feeling that he’s simply too fragile to last in the NFL. And in the new offense run by new coach Jay Gruden, Cousins just looks like a better fit. In Week One, Griffin’s only full game in Gruden’s offense, Griffin looked overly cautious and never got much of anything going. Cousins has looked comfortable taking shots downfield.

I loved RGIII when he was at Baylor, and loved watching him in his rookie year. But I’m getting a sinking feeling that his career will go one of two ways: Either he’ll keep getting hurt, or he and his coaches will be so worried about him getting hurt that he’ll be put in bubble wrap by a stifling offense that doesn’t make use of his talents.

Cousins doesn’t have the same talent as Griffin. But Cousins may have a longer and more successful NFL career than Griffin. He certainly did enough on Sunday to make the case that he — not Griffin — is the quarterback of the future in Washington.

Here are my other thoughts on Sunday’s action:

What a game in Seattle. The Super Bowl rematch was everything we could have hoped for, with the Seahawks jumping out to an early lead and the Broncos storming back to force overtime. The Seahawks got the 26-20 win, the Broncos got at least some satisfaction from knowing they can play a competitive game with the team that blew them out in February, and football fans got a treat. With what the NFL has dragged the game through over the last couple weeks, we deserved it.

Protection of the quarterback going too far. In theory, I support the NFL’s desire to make the game of football safer by taking out hits on defenseless players, particularly hits to the heads of quarterbacks who are in postures where they can’t defend themselves. In practice, NFL officials often go way too far in protecting the quarterback, at the expense of preventing defensive players from doing their jobs. That happened on Sunday in Arizona, where the Cardinals were handed 30 yards on back-to-back plays when 49ers players were flagged for hits on Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton. Former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira said on the FOX broadcast that he disagreed with the calls, and so did I. The first was a hit from San Francisco’s Dan Skuta to the head of Stanton while Stanton was beginning to slide, but it’s important to note that he was just beginning to slide — he hadn’t actually touched the ground yet. And on the second, 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis used his shoulder to hit Stanton in the chest — exactly the way players are told to hit — and yet he was called for roughing the passer anyway. Those 30 yards helped the Cardinals march down the field for a touchdown. A raw deal for the 49ers’ defense.

A big screwup in Seattle. While the Broncos had the ball in the third quarter, they successfully drew Seattle’s K.J. Wright offside. An official saw it and threw his penalty flag. And then something strange happened: Another official came in and claimed that Wright hadn’t been offside, and the head referee — who has the final call when two officials disagree — went with the official who got it wrong. The TV replays made it clear that Wright had been offside, but that didn’t matter because offside calls aren’t reviewable on replay. The NFL needs its officials to get better at communicating on the field, or make more calls reviewable on replay to get those mistakes right. Or both.

The Bengals are really, really good. Of all the NFL’s 3-0 teams, the one that has impressed me most is in Cincinnati. The Bengals, who just destroyed the Titans on Sunday, have a stifling pass defense and an offense that revolves around receiver A.J. Green, who in my view is the best receiver in football not named Megatron. The Bengals have their bye this week and then visit New England. The Bengals are already the only unbeaten team in the AFC, and a win over the Patriots would be a huge statement that the road to the Super Bowl will go through Cincinnati.

Tulloch pulls a Gramatica. Please, NFL players, take it easy with the celebrations. Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch hurt his knee jumping up to celebrate a sack, in a move reminiscent of former NFL kicker Bill Gramatica blowing out his knee. After watching that I paid closer attention to the way players celebrated for the rest of the day, and honestly, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often. Guys are jumping up and down, jumping on each other, smacking each other and generally doing things that can only lead to pain when they involve multiple adrenaline-fueled 250-pound men. Be smart, guys. A simple high-five is sufficient.

NFL should improve the broadcast rules. In the final moments of the Washington-Philadelphia game, FOX’s Joe Buck announced that some viewers would not be able to see the end of the game “because of NFL broadcast rules.” Those rules are dumb. It didn’t affect me personally because I have the NFL Sunday Ticket package, but for fans who only see NFL games through their local network affiliates, it’s ridiculous to have to miss the end of that game. A great game like Washington-Philadelphia should be exactly the kind of game the NFL wants as many fans as possible to see.

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Week Three early inactives

Bernard Pierce 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.

Chargers at Bills

Chargers: RB Ryan Mathews, WR Dontrelle Inman, CB Chris Davis, CB Steve Williams, DT Ricardo Mathews, DT Ryan Carrethers

Bills: LB Randell Johnson, S Jonathan Meeks, LB Keith Rivers, RB Bryce Brown, OL Chris Gragg, OL Cyril Richardson, T Cyrus Kouandjio, CB Ross Cockrell

Titans at Bengals

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

Bengals: WR Marvin Jones, LB Vontaze Burfict, CB Chris Lewis-Harris, RB Rex Burkhead, DT Brandon Thompson, G Kevin Zeitler, LB Sean Porter

Ravens at Browns

Ravens: RB Bernard Pierce, DT Timmy Jernigan, WR Michael Campanaro, DB Terrence Brooks, LB Arthur Brown, T Jah Reid, OL John Urschel

Browns: RB Ben Tate, LB Eric Martin, DT Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, TE Gerrell Robinson, WR LaRon Byrd, CB Pierre Desir, DB Robert Nelson

Packers at Lions

Packers: LB Brad Jones, QB Scott Tolzien, CB Demetri Goodson, WR Jeff Janis, LB Carl Bradford, DT Mike Pennel

Lions: LB Travis Lewis, T LaAdrian Waddle, CB Cassius Vaughn, QB Kellen Moore, FB Montell Owens, WR Ryan Broyles, S James Ihedigbo

Colts at Jaguars

Colts: LB Jerrell Freeman, DT Arthur Jones, WR Da’Rick Rogers, G Lance Louis, C Khaled Holmes, G Joe Reitz, LB Chris Carter

Jaguars: WR Marqise Lee, T Austin Pasztor, CB Jeremy Harris, G Tyler Shatley, RB Storm Johnson, WR Tavarres King, TE Clay Harbor

Raiders at Patriots

Raiders: LB Sio Moore, QB Matt Schaub, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, CB Chimdi Chekwa, LB Nick Roach, G Tony Bergstrom, T Matt McCants

Patriots: S Don Jones, WR Aaron Dobson, DL Zach Moore, G Josh Kline, C Ryan Wendell, RB James White, CB Alfonzo Dennard

Vikings at Saints

Vikings: QB Christian Ponder, WR Charles Johnson, CB Shaun Prater, LB Brandon Watts, G David Yankey, WR Rodney Smith, DE Scott Crichton

Saints: RB Mark Ingram, S Marcus Ball, FB Erik Lorig, LB David Hawthorne, CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, WR Nick Toon, DL John Jenkins

Texans at Giants

Texans: LB Jadeveon Clowney, S Shiloh Keo, RB Arian Foster, T Jeff Adams, DL Louis Nix, QB Tom Savage, WR DeVier Posey

Giants: WR Odell Beckham, LB Jon Beason, LB Derek Kennard, DE Kerry Wynn, DT Jay Bromley, OL James Brewer, T Charles Brown

Redskins at Eagles

Redskins: QB Robert Griffin III, TE Jordan Reed, LB Akeem Jordan, CB Tracy Porter, DL Kedric Golston, OL Morgan Moses, WR Santana Moss

Eagles: LB Mychal Kendricks, QB Matt Barkley, T Matt Tobin, S Earl Wolff, WR Josh Huff, T Kevin Graf, DL Taylor Hart

Cowboys at Rams

Cowboys: DE Anthony Spencer, LB Justin Durant, DT Davon Coleman, LB Rolando McClain, CB Tyler Patmon, QB Dustin Vaughan, OL Donald Hawkins

Rams: CB Trumaine Johnson, C Barrett Jones, CB Brandon McGee, WR Tavon Austin, QB Case Keenum, RB Tre Mason, S Maurice Alexander

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Week Three injury report roundup

DeSean Jackson, Trent Williams, coach Jay Gruden 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.

Chargers at Bills

Running back Ryan Mathews (knee) and linebacker Melvin Ingram (hamstring) have been ruled out for the Chargers, who also may not have linebacker Jerry Attaochu (hamstring) after he missed practice all week. Attaochu is questionable, as are wide receiver Keenan Allen (groin) and safety Jahleel Addae (hamstring). The Bills will be shorthanded at linebacker as well. Randell Johnson (knee) has been ruled out and Keith Rivers (groin) is unlikely to play.

Titans at Bengals

The Titans don’t have many injury issues on the 53-man roster. Cornerback Jason McCourty (groin) is questionable after a week of limited practices, but the other three players on the report are probable. The Bengals listed linebacker Vontaze Burfict as doubtful, but two concussions in two weeks may make that a hopeful designation. Guard Kevin Zeitler (calf) is also doubtful, but things are looking good for wide receiver A.J. Green (toe) after a full practice on Friday.

Ravens at Browns

Ravens defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) is doubtful and running back Bernard Pierce is questionable after coming down with a thigh injury during the week. Guard Paul McQuistan (ankle) is questionable and the only player on the Browns injury report.

Packers at Lions

Linebacker Brad Jones (quad) is out again for Green Bay while tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) is questionable after missing last week’s game. Cornerback Casey Hayward (glute) is also questionable. Lions linebacker Travis Jones (quad), cornerback Cassius Vaughn (ankle) and tackle LaAdrian Waddle (calf) are out. Safety James Ihedigbo (neck) is doubtful while defensive end Ziggy Ansah (knee) is questionable after a Friday return to practice.

Colts at Jaguars

The Colts have ruled out linebacker Jerrell Freeman (hamstring) and defensive tackle Arthur Jones (ankle). Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (illness) is questionable, as is defensive tackle Ricky-Jean Francois (ankle). The Jags won’t have wide receiver Marqise Lee (hamstring) but wide receiver Cecil Shorts (hamstring) is set to make his 2014 regular season debut.

Raiders at Patriots

Raiders linebacker Sio Moore (ankle) won’t play and running back Maurice Jones-Drew (hand) is questionable after having surgery less than two weeks ago. Defensive end Antonio Smith (back) was added to the injury report on Friday and he’s listed as questionable as well. Running back Shane Vereen (shoulder) and linebacker Jamie Collins (thigh) are the biggest names among six questionable Patriots while tight end Rob Gronkowski (knee) and wide receiver Julian Edelman (back) are probable.

Vikings at Saints

Linebacker Chad Greenway is questionable to play with a broken hand and the Vikings are also waiting to see if wide receiver Rodney Smith (hamstring) and linebacker Brandon Watts (knee) will play. The Saints have ruled out running back Mark Ingram (hand), linebacker David Hawthorne (ankle), fullback Erik Lorig (ankle) and safety Marcus Ball (hamstring).

Texans at Giants

Texans running back Arian Foster (hamstring) was limited in practice on Friday and is questionable for Sunday. The same is true for safety D.J. Swearinger (elbow). The Giants ruled out linebackers Jon Beason (foot) and Devon Kennard (hamstring) while listing punter Steve Weatherford (ankle) as questionable.

Redskins at Eagles

Wide receiver DeSean Jackson (shoulder) is questionable for his first return to Philadelphia since being released by the Eagles. If he doesn’t play, he’ll join tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring), linebacker Akeem Jordan (knee) and cornerback Tracy Porter (hamstring) on the sideline. Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks (calf) won’t play and safety Earl Wolff (knee) is questionable after missing Friday’s practice.

Cowboys at Rams

Defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee) returned to practice for the Cowboys this week, but he’s out for Sunday. So is linebacker Justin Durant (groin) and Rolando McClain (groin) may join him after getting a doubtful tag. Quarterback Shaun Hill (thigh) is questionable for the Rams, who will make their quarterback call over the weekend. Wide receiver Tavon Austin (knee) is questionable.

49ers at Cardinals

Tight end Vernon Davis (ankle, knee), cornerback Tramaine Brock (toe) and tackle Anthony Davis (hamstring) are all questionable for the 49ers. Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (shoulder) is questionable and won’t start if he does suit up. Defensive end Frostee Rucker (calf) and tight end Rob Housler (hip) are both questionable.

Chiefs at Dolphins

Safety Eric Berry (ankle) and running back De’Anthony Thomas (hamstring) are out for the Chiefs and running back Jamaal Charles (ankle) is questionable after practicing the last two days. The Dolphins won’t have guard Shelley Smith (knee) or linebacker Koa Misi (ankle). Tight end Charles Clay (knee) is listed as questionable.

Broncos at Seahawks

Linebacker Danny Trevathan (knee) is questionable to make his first appearance of the 2014 season, which would be a quicker than expected return from injury for the 2013 starter.  Cornerback Tharold Simon (knee) remains out for Seattle while linebacker Bruce Irvin (rib) missed practice the last two days and is listed as questionable.

Steelers at Panthers

Running back Dri Archer (knee) is doubtful for Pittsburgh and guard Ramon Foster (ankle) is questionable. Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams (quad), wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (quad) and wide receiver Jason Avant (quad) are all questionable for the Panthers.

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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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