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PFT’s Week Seven picks

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Well, he swept me last week.  MDS and I differed on three games.  He was right (and I was wrong) on each of them.

This week, we disagree on only one game.  It involves a team on which we’ve disagreed four prior times this year.  He’s been right each time, and I’ve been wrong.

Coincidentally (or not), he now leads the season-to-date contest by four games.

For the week, MDS was 12-3 and I was 9-6.  For the year, he’s at 59-32 and I’m at 55-36.

Jets at Patriots

MDS’s take: I still don’t think the Jets are quite as bad as their record suggests, and one of these weeks I think the Jets are going to win a game when no one sees it coming. But this won’t be the week. Tom Brady has turned things around recently and is playing very well, and the Jets simply don’t have the manpower in the secondary to keep up.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 27, Jets 17.

Florio’s take:  It’s the second annual last trip by Rex Ryan to Foxborough.  And likely the final one.  Bill Belichick and company send Rex packing with a butt-kicking.  Maybe Rex ends up working for Bill in 2015?

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 34, Jets 10.

Falcons at Ravens

MDS’s take: The Ravens are playing good football in all three phases of the game, while the Falcons are playing well on offense and special teams but struggling mightily on defense. That will be the difference, as Joe Flacco will put up big numbers against a weak Atlanta secondary.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 31, Falcons 21.

Florio’s take:  Winless on the road and suddenly unable to win at home, the Falcons are still looking for their next victory after that 56-14 thrashing of the Buccaneers.  And the Falcons will keep looking beyond their trip to Baltimore.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 31, Falcons 20.

Titans at Washington

MDS’s take: Kirk Cousins has been terrible the last few weeks, but this week he gets to play a bad Titans defense. Look for DeSean Jackson to make a couple of big plays in the passing game and those big plays to be the difference.

MDS’s pick: Washington 20, Titans 14.

Florio’s take:   The one-win Washington team gets a rare chance to pick up a second.  There may not be many/any more after it.

Florio’s pick:  Washington 20, Titans 14.

Seahawks at Rams

MDS’s take: The Seahawks’ schedule got off to a brutal start, as four of their first five opponents were likely playoff teams. Now the Seahawks are entering the easier stretch of their schedule, and they should make quick work of the Rams.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 28, Rams 14.

Florio’s take:  The suddenly shaky Seahawks look to re-establish themselves against the regularly-shaky Rams.  St. Louis could put up a fight  early (like they did at home against the 49ers on Monday night) and then fade late (like they did at home against the 49ers on Monday night).  Either way, no one will be thinking the Seahawks are in danger after Sunday.  Even if they are.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 30, Rams 17.

Browns at Jaguars

MDS’s take: The Browns are surprisingly good. The Jaguars are even worse than anyone could have imagined. I expect the Browns to go on a run and establish themselves as AFC playoff contenders.

MDS’s pick: Browns 31, Jaguars 13.

Florio’s take:  It’s a trap game for a team that is used to being the trap team.  But the Browns will be favored for the next three weeks.  Can they win the games they’re supposed to win?  Survey says, “Probably.”

Florio’s pick:  Browns 27, Jaguars 16.

Bengals at Colts

MDS’s take: This was the toughest game on the board for me to pick. The Bengals are a better team overall, but they’re without their best player in A.J. Green, they’re coming off a hard-fought overtime loss, and they’re heading to Indianapolis to play a Colts team that’s on extra rest after a Thursday night game. Add it all up and it looks to me like a close win for Indianapolis.

MDS’s pick: Colts 21, Bengals 20.

Florio’s take:  The Colts have had a little extra rest to get ready for a Bengals team that could use a little more after playing five full quarters at home.  Indy is rolling; the Bengals find themselves in the middle of an unexpected four-team scrum.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 30, Bengals 21.

Vikings at Bills

MDS’s take: Teddy Bridgewater is a talented young quarterback, but he struggled mightily when the Lions brought inside pressure on Sunday, and the Bills have the personnel to get the same kind of inside pressure against the Vikings. Bridgewater is going to have another tough game in another Vikings loss.

MDS’s pick: Bills 20, Vikings 10.

Florio’s take:  It took a week longer than the new owners had hoped, but the Bills get the first win of the Pegula era against the Purple Paste Eaters.

Florio’s pick:  Bills 24, Vikings 10.

Dolphins at Bears

MDS’s take: The Bears’ defense is much improved from last year, with free agent addition Willie Young making a huge difference and leading the league with 7.0 sacks. I like Young to get a lot of pressure on Ryan Tannehill as the Bears win.

MDS’s pick: Bears 24, Dolphins 20.

Florio’s take:  The Bears have not yet won at Soldier Field this year.  That streak ends on Sunday against a Dolphins team that blew a prime opportunity to upend the Packers.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 27, Dolphins 17.

Saints at Lions

MDS’s take: The Saints’ offense is good and their defense is bad. The Lions’ defense is good and their offense is bad. I’ll break the tie by going with home-field advantage, and that means the Lions.

MDS’s pick: Lions 23, Saints 20.

Florio’s take:  The Lions have a great defense, but they haven’t faced an offense quite like the one the Saints have.  Sure, Reggie Bush will want some revenge.  But he can only do so much to match what the Saints will muster, with two weeks to rest and to prepare for a showdown with the team New Orleans manhandled less than three years ago in the playoffs.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 34, Lions 27.

Panthers at Packers

MDS’s take: Cam Newton looks like he’s getting healthier and playing better, so the Panthers should be able to put plenty of points on the board in Green Bay. Unfortunately for the Panthers, their defense is struggling and Aaron Rodgers is at the top of his game, which means Green Bay wins a high-scoring contest.

MDS’s pick: Packers 34, Panthers 27.

Florio’s take:  The Packers have found the gas pedal since losing in ugly fashion to the Lions.  The Panthers, as up-and-down as any team this season, keep finding the pedal then losing it.  But after giving up 37 points to the Bengals in Cincinnati, the Carolina defense could get shredded in the land o’ cheddar.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 34, Panthers 23.

Chiefs at Chargers

MDS’s take: Philip Rivers is playing the best football of his career right now, and the Chiefs’ defense is not playing particularly well. I expect Rivers to have a big game.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 30, Chiefs 20.

Florio’s take:  Before getting a chance to take their best shot at the Broncos in Denver, the Chargers have to withstand the best the Chiefs have to offer, with two weeks to get ready for it.  If the Chargers weren’t in the midst of a special season, that would be a real concern.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 27, Chiefs 20.

Cardinals at Raiders

MDS’s take: Give Tony Sparano credit for this — the Raiders looked like they were playing harder for him on Sunday against the Chargers than they had played previously this season for Dennis Allen. Having said that, the Raiders simply aren’t a very talented football team, and the Cardinals should beat them decisively.

MDS’s pick: Cardinals 34, Raiders 17.

Florio’s take:  Another trap game for a team that not long ago was a trap team.  Throw in Carson Palmer’s desire for some warped sense of revenge against the second of two teams on which he quit, and the Cardinals likely won’t be caught napping.

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 27, Raiders 23.

Giants at Cowboys

MDS’s take: The Cowboys’ defense is far from great, but it’s much improved from last year, and it should be able to shut down the Giants, whose offense is struggling. DeMarco Murray will have another big game as the Cowboys play ball control in the second half.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 20, Giants 10.

Florio’s take:  The Giants are 4-1 at Jerryworld.  The Cowboys are 5-1.  But these aren’t the same old Cowboys who have dropped four of five at home against their rivals from New York.  And these Giants aren’t the team that recently won three in a row, especially with Victor Cruz done for the year and Rashad Jennings gone for now.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 27, Giants 17.

49ers at Broncos

MDS’s take: Can Peyton Manning throw for three touchdown passes against a good 49ers defense and break Brett Favre’s NFL record? I think he can, and the Broncos will win an entertaining and close game.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 28, 49ers 24.

Florio’s take:  49ers coach Jim Harbaugh reportedly “evaluated” Peyton Manning in 2012.  Harbaugh gets a chance to evaluate Manning a lot more closely on Sunday night.  And Harbaugh won’t like what he sees.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 31, 49ers 20.

Texans at Steelers

MDS’s take: The Steelers’ defense was shredded by the Browns on Sunday, but Houston’s offense isn’t as good as Cleveland’s. I think Pittsburgh will win a low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 13, Texans 10.

Florio’s take:  On the rare occasions when the Steelers are backed against the wall, they come out swinging.  Facing in prime-time audience at home on Monday night after getting blown out by the Browns, the Steelers will come out swinging.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 24, Texans 13.

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Week Six power rankings

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1. San Diego Chargers (No. 3 last week; 5-1):  The Chargers are 1-0 whenever Eric Weddle unsuccessfully audibles to a fake on a fourth-and-35 punt.  Hopefully, there won’t be an effort to push that mark to 2-0.

2. Dallas Cowboys (No. 9; 5-1):  Jimmy Johnson eventually will try to find a way to claim I/me credit for this, too.

3. Denver Broncos (No. 2; 4-1):  A sluggish, uninspiring 14-point win is still a 14-point win.

4. Arizona Cardinals (No. 4; 4-1):  A sluggish, uninspiring 10-point win is still a 10-point win.

5. Philadelphia Eagles (No. 5; 5-1):  So much for the sluggish, uninspiring wins.

6. Seattle Seahawks (No. 1; 3-2):  So much for the February coronation.

7. Green Bay Packers (No. 7; 4-2):  So much for the South Florida heat.

8. Indianapolis Colts (No. 8; 4-2):  So much for the Colts being done at 0-2.

9. Cincinnati Bengals (No. 6; 3-1-1):  So much for field goals of shorter than 40 yards being automatic.

10. Baltimore Ravens (No. 10; 4-2):  So much for the North Florida heat.

11. San Francisco 49ers (No. 11; 4-2):  So much for the Rams being any good.

12. New England Patriots (No. 12; 4-2):  So much for Tom Brady’s ankle being injured.

13. Carolina Panthers (No. 13; 3-2-1):  So much for Riverboat Ron choosing to roll the dice on a win in overtime.

14. Detroit Lions (No. 16; 4-2):  So much for a crappy kicker keeping the team from winning.

15. Cleveland Browns (No. 21; 3-2):  So much for the Browns not being competitive.

16. Buffalo Bills (No. 14; 3-3):  So much for the Bills being competitive.

17. New Orleans Saints (No. 17; 2-3):  So much for the Saints falling behind the pack in the NFC South, which went 0-2-1 during the New Orleans bye.

18. Chicago Bears (No. 23; 3-3):  So much for other teams figuring out Marc Trestman’s offense.

19. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 15; 3-3):  So much for the Steelers being competitive.

20. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 20; 2-3):  Take down the Chargers in San Diego, and suddenly the AFC West becomes a three-team race.

21. Houston Texans (No. 18; 3-3):  On Monday night, J.J. Watt gets a chance to remind Pittsburgh of what a dominant defensive player looks like.

22. New York Giants (No. 19; 3-3):  From 2004 through 2012, the Giants started each season at 5-2 or better.  For the second straight year, they won’t.

23. Miami Dolphins (No. 24; 2-3):  After a close loss to the Packers, the glass is half full or the glass is half empty or the glass is shattered.

24. Atlanta Falcons (No. 22; 2-4):  That Georgia dome should be renamed Soldier Field South.

25. New York Jets (No. 25; 1-5):  In an effort to get fired sooner than later, maybe Rex should drive around the parking lot, dragging the team’s Super Bowl trophies from the bumper of his car.  Oh, wait.

26. Tennessee Titans (No. 30; 2-4):  After Sunday’s win, a Titans player encourage his teammates to not get satisfied.  Given that they barely beat the Jaguars, that’s not possible.

27. Minnesota Vikings (No. 26; 2-4):  How much tape did it take to figure out Teddy Bridgewater?  Not much.

28. St. Louis Rams (No. 27; 1-4):  The reunited Greatest Show on Turf team may have had a better shot at winning last night than the current Rams.

29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 28; 1-5):  For most Bucs fans, 1-5 and Lovie Smith is still way better than last year.

30. Washington (No. 29; 1-5):  When is it time to give up on a season?  When the calls are coming for Colt McCoy to start.  (We also would have accepted “when the head coach starts wearing T-shirts during games.”)

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 31; 0-6):  It’s unfair to expect the Jaguars to make good decisions with a game on the line in the final seconds; they don’t have much recent experience at that.

32.  Oakland Raiders (No. 32; 0-5):  Eventually, Oakland fans will be throwing eggs at the Raiders’ bus.

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NFL morning after: Let’s get rid of ties

mikenugent AP

If you watched the end of Sunday’s 37-37 tie between the Panthers and Bengals, I hope you kept watching long enough to catch the looks on the players’ and coaches faces as they walked off the field. They didn’t know what to think. Neither did I.

Win an NFL game and you’re jubilant. Lose and you’re devastated. But a tie? Well, a tie just feels like something that makes you shrug. (Especially if you’re Donovan McNabb.)

Soccer still has ties, and so do plenty of sports popular in other countries like rugby and field hockey, and a boxing match or a mixed martial arts fight can end in a draw if the judges say so. But when it comes to American team sports, the NFL is pretty much alone in still having ties. The NHL adopted the shootout to get rid of the tie, and college football has instituted its endless overtimes to make ties a thing of the past. The NFL is in a lonely position. The tie is an anachronism. It needs to go the way of the leather helmet and the flying wedge.

The NFL changed its overtime rules in 2012 so that a field goal on the first possession of overtime wouldn’t win the game, and as a result ties are more common now: There had only been two ties in the previous 14 seasons before the NFL adopted that rule change, but now we’re averaging a tie per season, with one tie in 2012, one in 2013 and our first tie of 2014 on Sunday.

I don’t like that trend. The whole point of playing is to declare a winner. You watch a tie and you feel like you watched a four-hour contest that accomplished nothing.

The NFL’s playoff overtime rule is the same as that of the regular season, except that you keep playing even if you’re tied after 15 minutes of overtime, until someone wins. That should be the rule in the regular season as well. Let’s get rid of ties in the NFL.

Here are my other thoughts from Sunday:

Lovie Smith’s players aren’t playing for him. As the head coach of the Bears, Lovie Smith was known for being beloved by his players, but in Tampa he looks like he doesn’t have the attention of his team. The Bucs just come out looking too flat, too often. If you watched their pathetic Thursday night loss to the Falcons you’d think a team couldn’t look any worse — unless you saw the way the Bucs played on Sunday against Baltimore. The Ravens went into Tampa and took a 28-0 lead in the first quarter and a 38-0 lead midway through the second quarter. The Bucs didn’t even look like they were trying.

The Lions’ kicking problems are stunning. Detroit is now down to its third kicker of the season, and the field goal problems still haven’t been fixed. Matt Prater, signed by the Lions last week, went just 1-for-3 in his debut for the Lions on Sunday. As a team, the Lions are now 2-for-12 on field goals longer than 30 yards this season. There are high school teams that kick better than the Lions.

Teddy Bridgewater showed why the Vikings didn’t want to play him this early. Taking on a good Detroit defense on Sunday, Bridgewater got rattled. The Vikings never wanted to start their first-round rookie quarterback this early in the season exactly because they didn’t want him to go through a game like he went through Sunday, when he was sacked eight times and threw three interceptions. Unfortunately, when Matt Cassel got hurt the Vikings had no choice but to start Bridgewater or — shudder — turn to Christian Ponder. Playing Ponder would have been essentially giving up on the season, so the Vikings are soldiering on with Bridgewater, even though he’s going to go through some rough outings like he did on Sunday. Bridgewater is a talented young quarterback who’s going to have to struggle through a tough rookie year. The Vikings just hope he doesn’t keep struggling as much as he did on Sunday.

Adam Jones is a really, really talented football player. It’s too bad that the career of “Pacman” has been overshadowed by his frequent off-field trouble, because that guy is an amazing football player. Just when it looked like the Bengals were toast on Sunday, when they’d fallen behind the Panthers 31-24 late in the fourth quarter, Jones ripped off a 97-yard kickoff return to set up a game-tying touchdown. Jones has always been an incredibly fearless return man: When returning punts, he always wants to make a play and never fair catches — he hasn’t fair caught a punt since 2006, despite returning 70 punts since then. He’s also been a good starting cornerback for much of his career, although at age 31 he’s not quite the contributor he used to be on defense. That 97-yard return was the first time this season that the Bengals had Jones return a kickoff, and that was a smart time to use him. They should use him on kickoff returns more frequently. It’s nice to have a reason to talk about Jones on the field.

Peyton Manning makes the extraordinary seem ordinary. I hardly heard anyone talking about Manning on Sunday, and yet all he did was complete 22 of 33 passes for 237 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions, while leading the Broncos to a 31-17 win over the Jets. That’s just become what we expect of Manning at this point. Those three touchdowns gave Manning 506 for his career, which puts him just two behind Brett Favre’s all-time NFL record. I have a feeling we’ll hear plenty about Manning next week, when he’ll break Favre’s record.

DeSean Jackson is something special. Whatever issues were going on with Jackson and Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, the result was that Washington got itself an outstanding football player. Jackson is dynamite with the ball in his hands, as he showed Sunday against Arizona when he scored a 64-yard touchdown and also caught a 42-yard pass. Jackson has a league-high five catches of 40 or more yards. Just think what he could do if he were in a better passing game than Washington’s.

I still don’t know what constitutes an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit. On Sunday in Atlanta, Chicago safety Ryan Mundy lowered his helmet and hit Falcons receiver Roddy White in the side of the head while White was trying to make a catch. It looked to me like a clear case of an illegal hit on a defenseless receiver, so I wasn’t surprised when an official threw a flag. But I was surprised when the referee turned on his microphone and said that there actually was no flag because Mundy led with his shoulder, not his head. That’s not how it looked to me, and apparently not how it looked to the official who threw the flag. At a time when even the league’s own officials can’t keep straight which hits are legal and which are penalties, how are the players supposed to know? The NFL needs to get this rule straightened out. And after that, maybe do something about ties.

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Week Six early inactives

Sam Shields, Calvin Johnson 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.

Patriots at Bills

Patriots: CB Brandon Browner, S Nate Ebner, T Cameron Fleming, C Bryan Stork, DT Dominique Easley, LB Dont’a Hightower, RB James White

Bills: WR Marcus Easley, WR Mike Williams, S Aaron Williams, CB Ross Cockrell, RB Bryce Brown, LB Randell Johnson, T Cyrus Kouandjio

Panthers at Bengals

Panthers: RB DeAngelo Williams, CB Bene Benwikere, CB Josh Norman, RB Jonathan Stewart, QB Joe Webb, LB D.J. Smith, OL Andrew Norwell

Bengals: WR A.J. Green, CB Chris Lewis-Harris, LB Khairi Fortt, OL Kevin Zeitler, DT Brandon Thompson, WR Marvin Jones, DE Will Clarke

Steelers at Browns

Steelers: CB Ike Taylor, LB Ryan Shazier, S Shamarko Thomas, WR Martavis Bryant, QB Landry Jones, NT Daniel McCullers, G Chris Hubbard

Browns: DL Ahtyba Rubin, RB Terrance West, DL Phil Taylor, DL Billy Winn, TE Gerrell Robinson, CB Pierre Desir, WR Rodney Smith

Packers at Dolphins

Packers: WR Jarrett Boykin, QB Scott Tolzien, CB Demetri Goodson, LB Carl Bradford, LB Sam Barrington, C Garth Gerhart, DE Datone Jones

Dolphins: WR Brandon Gibson, RB Daniel Thomas, DT Deandre Coleman, G Shelley Smith, T Jason Fox, G Billy Turner, TE Gator Hoskins

Lions at Vikings

Lions: WR Calvin Johnson, RB Reggie Bush, TE Joseph Fauria, LB Travis Lewis, QB Kellen Moore, DE Larry Webster, OL Garrett Reynolds

Vikings: TE Kyle Rudolph, FB Zach Line, LB Chad Greenway, DL Scott Crichton, LB Brandon Watts, OL Austin Wentworth, OL David Yankey

Broncos at Jets

Broncos: RB Montee Ball, WR Cody Latimer, DB Tony Carter, LB Lerentee McCray, OL Ben Garland, OL Michael Schofield, DL Mitch Unrein

Jets: WR Chris Owusu, WR David Nelson, T Ben Ijalana, LB IK Enemkpali, G Dakota Dozier, S Josh Bush, DL TJ Barnes

Ravens at Buccaneers

Ravens: DE Chris Canty, DT Timmy Jernigan, T Eugene Monroe, G Kelechi Osemele, WR Marlon Brown, LB Arthur Brown, TE Ryan Taylor

Buccaneers: S Dashon Goldson, LB Jonathan Casillas, QB Josh McCown, CB Johnthan Banks, DE Larry English, OL Kevin Pamphile, G Kadeem Edwards

Jaguars at Titans

Jaguars: RB Toby Gerhart, WR Mike Brown, LB Jeremiah George, CB Jeremy Harris, G Tyler Shatley, OT Sam Young, WR Tavarres King

Titans: TE Craig Stevens, QB Jake Locker, RB Shonn Greene, CB Coty Sensabaugh, CB Brandon Ghee, LB Akeem Ayers, TE Taylor Thompson

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Week Six “Three and Out”

Johnny Getty Images

I like a good dilemma.  Especially when someone else is confronting it.

My current dilemma (well, one of them) is whether to keep doing a weekly “Three and Out” feature, which raises and answers three (imagine that) questions for each of the Sunday games.  While not necessarily well read, it’s been well received.  But in a job that rarely entails work, this requires a decent amount of it.

For now, I’ve resolved the dilemma by deciding to do it for at least one more week.  As to my other dilemmas, well, who the hell knows what I’ll do?

Patriots at Bills

1.  Will Darrelle Revis match up against Sammy Watkins?

After a few weeks of Darrelle Revis doing something other than covering the opponents’ best receiver, Revis spent all of Sunday night blanketing Bengals wideout A.J. Green.  This week, Bills rookie Sammy Watkins believes that Revis will be shadowing the fourth overall pick in the draft — and Watkins claims to have some sort of inside information to that effect.

It’s unclear why Watkins knows (or perhaps thinks he knows) that Revis will be assigned to try to contain him.  Regardless, it’ll be an interesting game within a game that will generate plenty of interest.  At least until it starts.

2.  Where has C.J. Spiller gone?

The 2010 first-round pick started his contract year by winning AFC special-teams player of the week honors.  His performance on offense has been anything but special.

Spiller has 215 rushing yards in five games, and average of 43 per game; 47 of those yards came on one carry.  He’s  also averaging a mere 3.5 yards per run, with 10 attempts for only eight yards against the Lions on Sunday.

Not long ago, Spiller was a rising star.  Now, he’s on pace to be scratching and clawing for a veteran tailback contract that pays at or about the money given to punters and kickers.  Here’s hoping that, for both the Bills and Spiller, he gets back to the form that he displayed in 2012, when he averaged 6.0 yards per carry and gained 1,244 for the year.

3.  Are the Patriots back?

Maybe.  With a 43-17 prime-time win following a 41-14 prime-time embarrassment, the truth about these Patriots likely lands somewhere in the middle.  They’ll have to continue to get the most they can out of the largely mediocre roster they have.  Yet another AFC East title is possible.  To get there, a win over the 3-2 Bills in their own building becomes crucial.

Panthers at Bengals

1.  Who steps up for A.J. Green?

Green aggravated a toe ligament this week, and it’s highly unlikely he’ll play on Sunday.  (Officially, he’s listed as questionable.)  Receiver Marvin Jones has been injured all year, and tight end Tyler Eifert hasn’t played since suffering a football injury in Week One.

So with Green out, Mohamed Sanu becomes the primary receiver.  And Brandon Tate will have increased opportunities.  And catchless-for-now rookie James Wright impressed offensive coordinator Hue Jackson on Sunday night at New England.

Tight end Jermaine Gresham and running back Giovani Bernard will also get more play.  Bernard has only three fewer catches on the year (14) than Green.

2.  Could Antoine Cason be the comeback player of the year?

So far, yes.  The first-round pick of the Chargers in 2008 has surged in Carolina this year, with an interception and three forced fumbles in five games.

Earlier this week, Cason told PFT Live that he learned how to punch balls out by spending time with Bears cornerback Charles Tillman during the 2011 lockout.  Cason used those skills to knock the ball away from Bears running back Matt Forte in crunch time last week, which sparked the game-winning points.

Not bad for a guy who didn’t start a single game in Arizona last season.

3.  Why did Cam Newton have his wisdom teeth out last week?

That’s perhaps the best question of the week.  (The second best question is whether Newton was under the influence of laughing gas when he explained the situation to the media after Sunday’s game.)  Having wisdom teeth removed is a painful, disruptive exercise.  Unless he was in constant discomfort or real danger of a wisdom-teeth-related malady, it’s something that should have waited until the bye week at the earliest, after the season ideally.

Coupled with Newton’s recent explanation that he didn’t realize the severity of his ankle surgery until after it had happened, it invites questions regarding whether Newton is getting good medical/dental advice, or whether he’s paying any attention to the advice he’s getting.

Steelers at Browns

1.  Where’s Johnny?

After not playing (despite being expected to make a cameo) during a Week One loss to the Steelers, Johnny Manziel/Football/Cleveland/Vegas saw limited action against the Saints in Week Two and the Ravens in Week Three.  So with a bye week to prepare for the first trip Jimmy Haslam’s team made making to Haslam’s home state of Tennessee, the Browns opted to leave Manziel in the garage again.

The last time the Steelers faced the Browns, they were prepared for Manziel and didn’t see him.  This time, maybe they’ll expect him not to play — and then maybe he’ll play.

Meanwhile, a guy with far less sizzle attached to his name is doing things at quarterback that would make Manziel the most talked-about athlete in America, if he were the one doing them and not Brian Hoyer.

2.  Why are the Browns favored to win?

The easy answer is that the Browns giving Pittsburgh one point ensures equal betting on both teams.  Which is what the bookies always hope for.  The tougher answer is why anyone would think the Browns will reverse a 1-18 history against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The Browns are trying to ignore the black and gold and the Big and Ben.

“You get to the point where you use the cliché, ‘Hey, treat these guys like they are nameless and faceless,'” coach Mike Pettine said this week.  “And we’re more competing against our standards than we are against anyone else particular.”

Those standards have raised to the point where the betting public believes the Browns can beat the Steelers.  Now, the Browns have to believe it.

3.  Where’s James Harrison?

Unlike Johnny Manziel, Harrison has been playing.  But not as much as he’d like.  Since ending his retirement last month, Harrison participated in 29 snaps against the Buccaneers and 21 against Jacksonville.

“I’m not where I want to be right now but week-in, week-out it gets a little better,” Harrison said this week. “We’ll see how far, how fast I progress.”

The Browns surely hope he doesn’t progress too quickly.  A pair of his biggest hits have come against the Browns, with a knockout blow four years ago to former Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and a crushing hit two years ago on former Browns quarterback Colt McCoy.

Packers at Dolphins

1.  Why would Mike Pouncey play guard?

One of the most intriguing nuggets in an otherwise boring (but for the arrest of Derrick Shelby) bye week came from center Mike Pouncey.  Who possibly will be guard Mike Pouncey when he returns from offseason hip surgery.

The reasoning is simple.  The goal is to put the best five offensive linemen on the field.  Having Pouncey at guard and Samson Satele at center is better than having Pouncey at center and someone else at guard.  Besides, Pouncey played guard at Florida while his brother Maurkice played center there.  So it won’t be new territory for Pouncey.

2.  Does Joe Philbin’s experience with the Packers help?

Possibly, but not really.  Much of the offensive talent has changed since Philbin left after the 2011 season.  Of course, Aaron Rodgers remains in position as the quarterback, and Philbin surely knows plenty about Rodgers’ tactics and tendencies and what he does well and what he doesn’t do well.

But it’s one thing to know what Rodgers will or won’t do.  It’s quite another to actually keep him from doing it.  The Dolphins may not have the personnel to make that happen.

3.  Have the Packers adopted a 50-50 split at tailback?

Apparently, yes.  Last Thursday night against the Vikings, Eddie Lacy and James Starks participated in 27 snaps each.  The expectation this week against the Dolphins is that they’ll do the same.

Which is bad news for Lacy on the surface.  But he can only blame himself; the time-share arises directly from his failure to become what the team expected him to be in 2014, a year after winning the NFL offensive rookie of the year award.

Lions at Vikings

1.  How long until Calvin Johnson is healthy?

At least not for a week, given that he’s been listed as doubtful.  But coach Jim Caldwell insists it’s not a long-term injury for Johnson, who battled a chronic knee problem throughout 2013 and now is dealing with a chronic ankle sprain.  Caldwell also disputed the idea that Johnson was serving as a decoy for the team’s past two games.  Which makes sense; admitting that a decoy was a decoy makes it harder to use decoys in the future.

2.  Will the Vikings ever use Cordarelle Patterson?

They say they will.  But they continue not to.  Patterson recently said (he was joking, presumably) that he may have to be a “drama queen” in order to get the ball more.

Ever since generating 128 yards from scrimmage in Week One against the Rams (102 rushing, 26 receiving), Patterson has become more and more of an afterthought.  He has run the ball only once in four games since the opener.  Last week against the Packers, he caught two passes for eight yards.

It could be that he’s a healthy decoy for the Vikings, opening up the rest of the offense.  At some point, the decoy needs to get the ball or teams will start ignoring the decoy.

3.  Is Matt Prater the answer at kicker for Detroit?

He can’t be any worse than their recent options.  Actually, he could be a lot better.  While not kicking at Mile High altitude, Prater will spend at least half his time kicking under a roof.

The challenge for the Lions will be to keep Prater clean.  He’s been sober for six weeks, but he’ll be facing a constant battle to resist consuming alcohol.  He definitely has the incentive to avoid it.  His next violation likely would trigger a 10-game suspension under the new substance-abuse policy.

Broncos at Jets

1.  Will Geno Smith be benched again?

It probably depends on how far out of hand the game gets.  And on whether backup Mike Vick, who admitted he wasn’t as prepared as he should have been, can be trusted to make a difference.

Regardless of whether it’s Smith or Vick, anything other than a fifth straight loss by the Jets would be a surprise.  And anything other than coach Rex Ryan being fired after the season would be a shock.

2.  Who steps in for Montee Ball?

The Broncos’ supposed workhorse has a groin injury, which means that Denver will utilize the three-headed platoon of Ronnie Hillman, C.J. Anderson, and Juwan Thompson.  Offensive coordinator Adam Gase has expressed confidence in all three.  But Gase and the Broncos haven’t shown much confidence in Hillman in the past; he quickly became a forgotten man last year behind Knowshon Moreno and Ball.  On Sunday, Hillman likely will get his first career start.

3.  Will the Broncos be haunted by their last trip to MetLife Stadium?

Probably not, since the Jets are a far cry from the Seahawks team that thumped Denver in February, 43-8.  But the Broncos don’t want a Groundhog Day experience after failed February 2 visit to New Jersey.  They’ll be staying in a different hotel this time around.  The Broncos chose the place where the Seahawks stayed during Super Bowl week.

Ravens at Buccaneers

1.  How’s rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley playing?

Incredibly well.  So well that he’s drawing comparisons to the Ravens’ last great inside linebacker.

Yes, after only five regular-season games, folks are comparing Mosley to Ray Lewis.  Future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis.  Guy who got a statue despite a serious off-field legal entanglement Ray Lewis.

There’s a long way to go until Mosley becomes the next Ray Lewis with the Ravens.  (In the good way.  And, technically, in the bad way.)  But Mosley is off to a great start, and that’s great news for Baltimore.

2.  Does Mike Glennon have mobility?

With body by Ichabod Crane and head by Napoleon Dynamite, no one would confuse the Buccaneers’ quarterback with the man Glennon replaced three years ago at North Carolina State.  But Glennon has more in common with Russell Wilson than Glennon’s gangly physique would suggest.

Glennon is mobile.  When needed, he effectively uses his legs to extend passing plays.  But if he ever decides to go north and south, he’ll likely add to his 56 rushing yards in 16 career games.

3.  How is the Ravens’ offensive line doing?

Baltimore’s wall of blockers had a rough day last weekend at Indianapolis.  Quarterback Joe Flacco absorbed four sacks and six other hits against the Colts.

Part of the problem is the use of an undrafted rookie at left tackle.  Against Indy, James Hurst had a rough day — and he admitted it.

Flacco continues to say the right things, but he could have a long day in the heat of Tampa, especially if the Bucs dial up more blitzes.  When they do, they’ve placed plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Jaguars at Titans

1.  Why would anyone watch this game?

As George Costanza would say, “Because it’s on TV.”

As Russell Dalrymple would counter, “Not yet.”

As the folks at CBS will decree, “In as few markets as possible.”

With combined records of 1-9 and neither team having any serious prospects to contend in 2014, this is a game that should have been played in Week One, when fans so desperate for football would find anything intriguing.

2.  When will the Zach Mettenberger era begin?

The sooner the better.  Jake Locker is always hurt.  Charlie Whitehurst is, well, Charlie Whitehurst.

At some point, the Titans need to see what they have in the rookie from LSU who but for a torn ACL would have been drafted a lot higher than round six.  What else have they got to lose?

Definitely not more games than they’re losing without him.

3.  Who runs the ball for the Jaguars this week?

Not Toby Gerhart.  The veteran free-agent acquisition has been a disappointment so far, gaining 123 yards in five starts and averaging 2.6 yards per carry.

He’s out this week, which means more Denard Robinson.  But it also could mean more Storm Johnson.

Johnson, a seventh-round draft pick in 2014, found a way to rumble for 20 yards behind a suspect offensive line.  Johnson could end up getting more opportunities to show that he belongs in the backfield with his former college teammate, Blake Bortles.

Chargers at Raiders

1.  Will burying a ball help the Raiders?

No. Next question.

2.  How have the Chargers finally found a running game?

Enough guys were injured to give Branden Oliver a chance.  The man who conjures memories of Darren Sproles because of the relatively uncommon choice of 43 as a jersey number and similar stature, Oliver averaged six yards per carry last week (114 total) and added 68 yards receiving.  He added two touchdowns.

Not bad for an offense that averaged 2.4 yards per carry through the first four games of the season.  And not good for the likes of Ryan Mathews and Donald Brown, who likely will learn upon returning from injury that they’ll be behind the undrafted rookie from Miami on the depth chart.

3.  How many centers will the Chargers use this year?

At the current rate, maybe 12.  Nick Hardwick landed on IR with a neck injury.  Rich Ohrnberger has missed two weeks and counting with a back injury.  Doug Legursky suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Jets.  So now the next man up (and inevitably next man down) will be Chris Watt, who’ll start if Ohrnberger (who’s listed as questionable) can’t play.

Washington at Cardinals

1.  Who plays quarterback for the Cardinals?

It apparently will be Drew Stanton, who managed to get quick clearance after suffering a concussion at Denver.  Carson Palmer continues to struggle with narcoleptic nerve in his throwing shoulder.  If it doesn’t finally stay awake, Stanton will get his fourth start — and Logan Thomas will be in line to play, if Stanton gets injured again.

2.  How will Arizona replace Calais Campbell?

Rookie Kareem Martin is expected to be the primary replacement.  The third-round pick from North Carolina had a rough time last week after Campbell suffered a sprained MCL following a chop block from Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, with six mental errors on running plays.

3.  Does Washington have a leadership problem?

Coach Jay Gruden apparently believes his team does.  Otherwise, he wouldn’t have made safety Ryan Clark a captain this week.

It was Clark who spoke up in defense of teammates who were perceived to be a little too happy (or perhaps not unhappy enough) after losing to the Seahawks on Monday night.  Gruden surely hopes Clark will be speaking up more in the locker room, especially when it comes to the importance of avoiding situations that can create unwanted perceptions.

Bears at Falcons

1.  Is Brandon Marshall healthy?

He says his ankle, injured in Week One against the Bills, has finally healed.  It was so bad that Marshall claims doctors had ruled him out of Week Two and Week Three games against the 49ers and Jets, respectively.

Now that he’s at or close to 100 percent, it’s time for the production to increase.  Last week, Marshall had only three catches for 44 yards against the Panthers.  For the year, Marshall has a mere 19 grabs for 188 yards — less than 10 yards per reception.

2.  Does Mike Smith trust his defense?

Maybe not.  If Smith did, he wouldn’t have rolled the dice on fourth and one from his own 29 with three time outs and more than four minutes on the clock in a seven-point game against the Giants.

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan senses it, based on his passive-aggressive comments when asked about the situation on Tuesday.

“{I]t really needs to be the head coach to answer it,” Nolan said.  “All I would do is divide.  I don’t want to. . . there’s s no good answer for me on that one, all right?”

But Nolan’s answer was a lot more than no answer.  And the best answer would have been something like, “I completely support the coach’s decision, in that situation and in every situation.”

3.  What’s wrong with Chicago’ offense?

Short answer:  It stinks.  Longer answer:  They apparently didn’t do enough self-scouting in the offseason.

“This year it’s a little bit harder because we got 16 games on tape, so defenses have a better idea of what we’re trying to accomplish,” coach Marc Trestman said this week.  “That’s not a cop out, that we shouldn’t improve.  We should.  It’s just the reality of the situation.”

It may not be a cop out, but it’s equally lame.  Any team that has any success on either side of the ball must do what every other team will spend the offseason doing — probe the film to find weaknesses, tendencies, and trends.  That’s what the “quality control” positions originally were designed for.

“What are we doing well, and what will the opposition do to counter it.  And how can we stay a step ahead of them?”

Trestman’s excuse is in actuality an indictment of his overall system.  The best coaches know how they’re going to be attacked, and they use that to set traps for those who think they know what’s coming.

Cowboys at Seahawks

1.  Will the Cowboys go at Richard Sherman?

Owner/G.M./team doctor/gloryhole prospector/offensive coordinator Jerry Jones says they will.  But it could be a bluff.  A wink-nod get-ready-’cause-it’s-comin’ ploy aimed at making the Seahawks think the ball will be flying in the direction of The Best Ever.

It shouldn’t be.  The Cowboys shouldn’t shy away from Sherman.  They should put Dez Bryant on him, and they should force Sherman to try to keep up with him.

In overtime last week, Bryant made a key catch despite being blanketed by Johnathan Jospeh of the Texans.  Sherman can’t cover Bryant any better than that.  No one can.

2.  Will the Cowboys reduce DeMarco Murray’s workload?

They keep saying it.  Just like they used to keep saying that they’ll run the ball more.

Eventually, they did run the ball some more.  And, eventually, they’ll work Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle into the mix some more.  For now, though, the owner who wants to win with glitz and glamor surely wants to ride a hot hand that is a pair of 100-yard games in the next two weeks away from making history.

Sure, Murray could get injured.  But when the dice are hot, it’s hard to walk away from the table.

3.  What’s wrong with Russell Okung?

The left tackle is banged up.  While he tries to downplay it, Okung hasn’t been playing at his usual high level.  This week, offensive line coach Tom Cable admitted that Okung is playing at 80 percent.

With center Max Under doubtful for Sunday’s game, that could make it harder for the Seahawks to open holes and create solid pockets.  While could mean more scrambling from quarterback Russell Wilson — and in turn more yards gained on the ground.

Giants at Eagles

1.  Do the Giants trust Andre Williams?

They have no choice.  With starter Rashad Jennings out, the fourth-round rookie steps into the starting lineup.  Which means he’ll have to be able to pass block and, from time to time, catch passes.

Last year at Boston College, Williams caught a grand total of none.  Last week, after Jennings was injured, Williams caught two.

He’ll need to catch a lot more than two to fully fill Jennings’ shoes.

2.  Do the Eagles miss DeSean Jackson?

They’ll never admit it, but there’s nothing like a true deep threat to open up an offense.  Apart from Jackson’s numbers (and they were career highs in 2013), his presence commands extra attention.  Which strains the available resources when it comes to shutting down the rest of the offense.

So as we try to figure out why the Eagles seem far more sluggish on offense this year, it’s easy to blame it on injuries.  But quarterback Nick Foles would have a lot easier time finding receivers if one of the targets had the kind of explosiveness that tilts the entire defense his way.

3.  What will the Eagles do at inside linebacker?

Possibly, hope for the best.  With Mychal Kendricks (calf) out again and Demeco Ryans (groin) questions, it’ll be up to Emmanuel Acho, Casey Matthews, and temporarily converted pass rusher Marcus Smith to handle the two key spots in the 3-4 attack.

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Week Six injury report roundup

New England Patriots Practice 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 Six of the 2014 season.

Patriots at Bills

Quarterback Tom Brady (ankle) was listed as questionable after a limited practice on Friday, which made for a late and eye-catching addition to the injury report. Cornerback Brandon Browner (ankle), linebacker Jamie Collins (thigh), defensive lineman Dominique Easley (shoulder/knee), linebacker Dont’a Hightower (knee), wide receiver Matthew Slater (shoulder), and center Bryan Stork (concussion) are also concussion, with Browner and Stork joining Brady as in-week additions to the list.  Linebacker Nigel Bradham (knee) and defensive tackle Kyle Williams (knee) are questionable after missing last week’s Bills victory. Running back Fred Jackson (ankle) cornerback Ron Brooks (neck), safety Da’Norris Searcy (knee), linebacker Brandon Spikes (ribs) and safety Aaron Williams (wrist) are also questionable, although one imagines Spikes will be itching to play against his former team.

Panthers at Bengals

Carolina ruled out running back DeAngelo Williams (quad) for the second straight week. Cornerbacks Bene Benwikere (ankle) and Josh Norman (concussion) are out as well and running back Jonathan Stewart (knee) is questionable. Defensive end Charles Johnson (hip) and tight end Greg Olsen (ankle) are also questionable. The A.J. Green (toe) watch will stretch into the weekend after the Bengals listed him as questionable. Wide receiver Marvin Jones (ankle) has the same tag after missing practice all week. Guard Kevin Zeitler (calf) is doubtful, but it looks good for the return of linebacker Vontaze Burfict (concussion, probable).

Steelers at Browns

The Steelers have ruled out linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee) and cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) again this week and safety Shamarko Thomas (hamstring) will join them in street clothes. The Browns will be waiting to make their decisions on cornerback Joe Haden (hip), defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (ankle) and linebacker Paul Kruger (back). Defensive ends Phil Taylor (knee surgery) and Billy Winn (quad) are out.

Packers at Dolphins

Wide receiver Jarrett Boykin (groin) will miss another game for Green Bay, while linebacker Sam Barrington (hamstring) and defensive end Datone Jones (ankle) both are questionable. The Dolphins look like they’ll get running back Knowshon Moreno (elbow, probable), defensive tackle Randy Starks (back, probable), linebacker Koa Misi (ankle, probable) and center Mike Pouncey (hip, although he wasn’t on the injury report at all this week) back in the lineup. Wide receiver Brandon Gibson (hamstring) is doubtful and the Dolphins listed cornerback Cortland Finnegan (neck) and guard Shelley Smith (knee) as questionable.

Lions at Vikings

It looks like the Lions will sit wide receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle, doubtful) down this week and could be without running back Reggie Bush (ankle, questionable) as well. Running backs Joique Bell (concussion, probable) and Theo Riddick (hamstring, probable) both look good to go, however. Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (ankle, probable) is set to return, although it looks like at least one more week for linebacker Chad Greenway (hand/rib, doubtful). Safety Harrison Smith (ankle) is questionable.

Broncos at Jets

The Broncos have known for a while that they won’t have running back Montee Ball (groin). The remainder of Denver’s injury report is made up of probable players. Jets wide receivers Eric Decker (hamstring) and David Nelson (ankle) are both questionable for an offense that needs all the help it can get. Linebacker David Harris (shoulder) and cornerback Darrin Walls (knee) are both questionable for a defense that will be trying to keep Peyton Manning from throwing the six touchdown passes he needs to become the NFL’s all-time leader.

Ravens at Buccaneers

The Ravens are without defensive end Chris Canty (wrist), tackle Eugene Monroe (knee) and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) again this week. Guard Kelechi Osemele (knee) is questionable after missing practice this week. Linebacker Jonathan Casillas (knee) and safety Dashon Goldson (ankle) won’t play for the Buccaneers. Wide receivers Mike Evans (groin) and Vincent Jackson (rib) are both questionable.

Jaguars at Titans

Jaguars running back Toby Gerhart (foot) has seen his playing time diminish the last couple of weeks and he’ll be out on Sunday. Everyone else on the Jacksonville injury report is probable, including wide receivers Marqise Lee (hamstring) and Cecil Shorts (hamstring). Quarterback Jake Locker (thumb, questionable) will be a game-time decision, but reports out of Nashville point toward Locker landing on the bench. Tight end Craig Stevens (thigh) is out for Tennessee, running back Shonn Greene (hamstring) is doubtful and cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (knee) is questionable.

Chargers at Raiders

Running back Donald Brown (concussion) joins Chargers running back Ryan Mathews (knee), linebacker Manti Te’o (foot) and cornerback Shareece Wright (knee) as non-participants this week. Tackle D.J. Fluker (ankle) is questionable after returning to practice on Friday and wide receiver Malcom Floyd (calf), linebacker Jarret Johnson (back/ankle) and offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger (back) have the same designation. The Raiders listed quarterback Derek Carr (knee/ankle) as questionable, so we won’t know his status until the weekend. Reports from Oakland point toward him playing, though. Wide receiver Vincent Brown (hamstring), linebacker Sio Moore (ankle) and running back Marcel Reece (quadricep) are also questionable.

Redskins at Cardinals

The short week wasn’t enough time for Washington to make final determinations on safety Ryan Clark (ankle), linebacker Brian Orakpo (ankle), tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring), linebacker Perry Riley (knee) and tackle Trent Williams (knee) and listed them all as questionable. Cornerback Tracy Porter (hamstring) won’t play. Arizona ruled out defensive end Calais Campbell (knee), linebacker Glenn Carson (ankle) and tight end Troy Niklas (ankle), but made no call about their quarterback. Carson Palmer (shoulder) and Drew Stanton (concussion) are both questionable. Guard Paul Fanaika (ankle, calf) is also questionable and Jonathan Cooper would likely start if he can’t go.

Bears at Falcons

Chicago won’t have center Taylor Boggs (hamstring), linebacker Lance Briggs (ribs), tackle Jermon Bushrod (knee, ankle), safety Ahmad Dixon (hamstring) or linebacker Shea McClellin (hand) available this weekend. Jon Bostic (back, questionable) could leave them very short-handed at linebacker. Wide receiver Harry Douglas (foot) will miss another game, but they’ll wait to make final calls on guard Justin Blalock (hamstring) and wide receiver Devin Hester (hamstring).

Cowboys at Seahawks

Linebackers Cameron Lawrence (thigh) and Rolando McClain (groin), tackle Jermey Parnell (chest) and defensive end Jack Crawford (calf) are questionable for the Cowboys, who have ruled out linebacker Bruce Carter (thigh) again this week. Wide receiver Percy Harvin (thigh, probable) should play for the Seahawks, but center Max Unger (foot, doubtful) probably won’t. Safety Kam Chancellor (hip, questionable) is somewhere in the middle.

Giants at Eagles

The Giants hope to have defensive end Robert Ayers (neck, questionable) and linebacker Jon Beason (foot/toe, questionable) in the lineup, but they won’t have running back Rashad Jennings (knee) or linebacker Spencer Paysinger (hamstring). Linebacker Mychal Kendricks (calf) is out again for the Eagles, who will also be without running back Chris Polk (hamstring) and wide receiver Brad Smith (core muscle surgery). Linebacker DeMeco Ryans (groin) is questionable.

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PFT’s Week Six picks

Teddy Getty Images

After a couple of bad weeks this year, Week Five was one of the best ever for MDS and yours truly.  Making it even better?  In the one game on which we disagreed, I was right — and MDS was wrong.

I had complete faith in the Patriots.  Bet-the-farm faith in the Patriots.  (Of course, if I were one to bet farms, I’d be down about 13 of them over the last few years.)

For the week, I was 13-2 and MDS generated a 12-3 mark.  For the year, he leads at 47-29 (61.8 percent).  I’m at 46-30 (60.5 percent).

This week, we disagree on three games.  With a lead of only one game, he may not quite so cocky when we discuss the picks on which we differ during Thursday’s PFT Live.

Who’m I kidding?  He’ll be as cocky as ever.

Colts at Texans

MDS’s take: I think we may finally see a decent game on a Thursday night. The Texans’ defense and home crowd will make things difficult on the Colts early on, keeping the score close, but in the end I just don’t think Houston can put enough points on the board to win this battle for first place in the AFC South.

MDS’s pick: Colts 24, Texans 17.

Florio’s take:  In each of the past three Thursdays, first-year coaching staffs were blown out in a short-week game.  With the Texans trying to process a deflating loss at Dallas while also trying to prepare for an underrated Colts team, it may not be a blowout — but it’ll count the same in the standings.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 27, Texans 20.

Patriots at Bills

MDS’s take: I can’t figure out either of these teams, as evidenced by my picks. I thought going to Kyle Orton was a desperate move for a Bills team that was going nowhere next week, but they won. I thought the Patriots were looking old and washed up, but they won. So who wins when the teams meet on Sunday? The Patriots, who looked a lot more impressive than the Bills. With Sunday’s win, New England will be right back where it belongs atop the AFC East.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 28, Bills 20.

Florio’s take:  The Pegula era likely won’t start the way the Wilson era ended.  But it’ll start the same way the Wilson era began 54 years ago — with a loss.  The Patriots are awake, and the Bills scored a win in Detroit they really didn’t deserve.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 30, Bills 20.

Panthers at Bengals

MDS’s take: A healthy Panthers offense would be tailor made to attack the Bengals’ defense, which is great against the pass but lousy against the run. Unfortunately, injuries have forced Cam Newton to be a pocket passer and forced the Panthers to rely far more on throwing than they’d like. That plays into the Bengals’ strengths, and they’re going to make this game tough on Newton.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 20, Panthers 10.

Florio’s take:  On Sunday night, the Bengals looked like they usually do in the postseason.  This week, they’ll look like they usually do in the regular season.  Even without A.J. Green.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 24, Panthers 13.

Steelers at Browns

MDS’s take: We’ve become so accustomed to assuming the Browns are doormats that I don’t know if we’ve really paid attention to just how good their offense is. I think they’re going to put up a lot of points against the Steelers and declare that they’re real contenders for an AFC playoff spot.

MDS’s pick: Browns 31, Steelers 27.

Florio’s take:  Arguably the biggest game for the Browns since late 2007 and for Brian Hoyer since his NFL career began, Cleveland has the talent to outscore an uneven Steelers team that barely beat the Jaguars on Sunday.  It may not indicate a changing of the guard, but it will give folks in Cleveland something to feel really good about, at least until the Cavs start playing.  Maybe longer.

Florio’s pick:  Browns 27, Steelers 24.

Packers at Dolphins

MDS’s take: Both of these teams have been inconsistent this season, which makes this a tough game to call. I just don’t think Ryan Tannehill is playing well enough to exploit the weaknesses in the Packers’ defense, and that’s why I see this as a narrow Green Bay win.

MDS’s pick: Packers 21, Dolphins 20.

Florio’s take:  Joe Philbin has had two weeks to get ready to face his old team.  It won’t be enough.  The Packers are finding their groove and racking up wins and trying to get some separation in the NFC North.  Plus, it’s Aaron Rodgers vs. Ryan Tannehill.  Plus, that big win for the Dolphins after a pair of losses came against the Raiders.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 34, Dolphins 17.

Lions at Vikings

MDS’s take: The Vikings will be a lot better this week with Teddy Bridgewater at the helm than they were last week with Christian Ponder at the helm. Unfortunately, they’re taking on a Detroit defense that can make life rough for even a good young quarterback with as much promise as Bridgewater.

MDS’s pick: Lions 27, Vikings 14.

Florio’s take:  Teddy Bridgewater is in.  Calvin Johnson may be out.  And the Vikings become unlikely factors in the NFC North, at least for now.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 27, Lions 20.

Broncos at Jets

MDS’s take: The Jets aren’t as bad as they looked on Sunday against the Chargers. But they’re not good enough to beat the Broncos, either.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 28, Jets 24.

Florio’s takePeyton Manning returns to MetLife Stadium under slightly different circumstances, against a slightly worse team.  The Jets should set their clocks back to Pacific time for this one.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 41, Jets 17.

Ravens at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: The Bucs have actually played much better football than most people realize, other than their Thursday night meltdown against the Falcons.  That game in Atlanta aside, the Bucs are 1-3 and all three losses have gone down to the final minute. Tampa should give Baltimore a good game, but in the end I like the Ravens to pull out a close one.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 28, Buccaneers 27.

Florio’s take:  The Bucs return home after a trio of road games that started horribly (56-14 at Atlanta), had an unexpectedly great second act (upset win at Pittsburgh), and nearly a fantastic finish (close but no cigar victory over the Saints in New Orleans).  With the bye week looming, the Bucs will go all in to move to 2-4.  But that likely won’t be enough against a Ravens team that has shown it’s ready to return to a position among the NFL’s best.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 27, Buccaneers 17.

Jaguars at Titans

MDS’s take: I don’t think the Titans are very good, but at this point I wouldn’t pick the Jaguars to win on the road against anyone. This will be Sunday’s worst game.

MDS’s pick: Titans 12, Jaguars 9.

Florio’s take:  They’ll probably tie.  But since I’ve got to pick a winner, let’s go with the team that has the better quarterback and (for now), the extra motivation that comes from a goose egg in the win column, and something other than the lingering stench of the biggest home-field collapse in league history.

Florio’s pick:  Jaguars 20, Titans 16.

Chargers at Raiders

MDS’s take: The head coach was far from the only problem in Oakland. Tony Sparano is about to find out the hard way that this roster isn’t good enough — especially against the Chargers, one of the best teams in the league.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 34, Raiders 17.

Florio’s take:  Interim coach Tony Sparano recently buried a football.  Unless the hole also included Philip Rivers and other key members of the Chargers, 0-4 is about to become 0-5.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 30, Raiders 13.

Washington at Cardinals

MDS’s take: I don’t know if any team in the league has been more hurt by injuries than the Cardinals, who can now add Calais Campbell — in my opinion their best player — to the list of those sidelined. And yet Bruce Arians is keeping his team competitive, and I believe Arizona is good enough to keep winning despite all the injuries.

MDS’s pick: Cardinals 24, Washington 20.

Florio’s take:  Whether it’s Carson Palmer or Drew Stanton or Logan Thomas or Jim Hart at quarterback, the Cardinals enjoy an underrated home advantage — and Washington is traveling a long way on a short week.  Also Washington isn’t very good.

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 30, Washington 17.

Bears at Falcons

MDS’s take: Devin Hester will be motivated to play well against the team that let him walk, and I think he will.  The Bears have not been great on punts and kickoffs this year, and I’m betting on Hester to break a big one. That could be the difference in a close game.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 24, Bears 21.

Florio’s take:  The up-and-down Falcons have been up at home.  The up-and-down Bears have been down for the last two weeks.  Devin Hester is downplaying a shot at revenge against the team that never could figure out how to properly use him on offense.  Hester will likely be playing up on Sunday.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 34, Bears 20.

Cowboys at Seahawks

MDS’s take: The Cowboys are a lot better than anyone expected, but they’re not good enough to win in Seattle. The Seahawks’ defense isn’t playing quite as well as last year, but the offense is even better.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 31, Cowboys 20.

Florio’s take:  The process of the Cowboys returning to earth begins . . . . now.  All the things that have been working against other teams in other venues suddenly won’t be working so well against the Seahawks in Seattle.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 27, Cowboys 13.

Giants at Eagles

MDS’s take: This is the kind of game the Giants need to win if they’re going to win the NFC East. It’s also the kind of game the Eagles need Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy to play well in, after a shaky start to the season. I like Philly’s offense to have a much better game this week.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 35, Giants 24.

Florio’s take:  The Giants have gotten better as the season has unfolded, and the Eagles have gotten worse.  Yet somehow the Eagles keep winning far more often than not.  With the new New York offense firing on all cylinders, it’s time for that to change — and for the NFC East to be thrust into an unexpected three-team race.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 27, Eagles 23.

49ers at Rams

MDS’s take: The Rams are getting far better play from quarterback Austin Davis than anyone could have expected. Unfortunately, they’re also getting far worse play from their defense than anyone could have expected. The 49ers’ offense should put up big numbers.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 34, Rams 20.

Florio’s take:  Yes, the Rams have played the 49ers tough in the past.  Yes, the Rams showed fight in a stirring comeback attempt at Philly.  No, that doesn’t persuade me that the Rams will be able to hold off a 49ers team that has been using the various reports about the future of Jim Harbaugh as a source of motivation and focus.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 24, Rams 15.

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Week Five power rankings

Russell AP

1. Seattle Seahawks (No. 1 last week; 3-1):  It’s one thing to have a mobile quarterback.  It’s quite another to have a mobile quarterback who knows how to use his mobility the right way.

2. Denver Broncos (No. 3; 3-1):  The price of re-signing receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas continues to go up and up.  And up.

3. San Diego Chargers (No. 7; 4-1):  Now they they’ve found a running back in Branden Oliver, this team could be ready to climb all the way to the top of the mountain.

4. Arizona Cardinals (No. 4; 3-1):  If the hit from Julius Thomas on Calais Campbell was the dirtiest thing coach Bruce Arians has seen in 37 years, the former Steelers assistant apparently didn’t watch the field when James Harrison was on it.

5. Philadelphia Eagles (No. 6; 4-1):  So which team in the NFC East will sign LeSean McCoy after he’s cut in the offseason?

6. Cincinnati Bengals (No. 2; 3-1):  It appears the Bengals already are in postseason form.

7. Green Bay Packers (No. 9; 3-2):  A week after Aaron Rogers said “relax,” his team played so well that anyone watching the Thursday night game fell asleep.

8. Indianapolis Colts (No. 10; 3-2):  They’ve come a long way from a start that put them two games behind the team they’ll play Thursday night.

9. Dallas Cowboys (No. 13; 4-1):  Based on the numbers of Texans fans at AT&T Stadium on Sunday, America’s Team apparently is no longer Dallas’s.

10. Baltimore Ravens (No. 5; 3-2):  Maybe they need some more controversy to get back to winning.

11. San Francisco 49ers (No. 11; 3-2):  “Who’s got it better than us?  Nobody, and anybody who suggests otherwise is a loser!”

12. New England Patriots (No. 19; 3-2):  The real Patriots fall somewhere between 41-14 and 43-17.

13. Carolina Panthers (No. 20; 3-2):  Back in first place after a pair of horrendous showings, the Panthers have become the poster children for this year’s roller-coaster NFL season.

14. Buffalo Bills (No. 21; 3-2):  Yes, sometimes the difference between winning and losing is the other team having a really crappy kicker.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 15; 3-2):  An uninspiring victory over a winless Florida team is still better than an uninspiring loss to a winless Florida team.

16. Detroit Lions (No. 8; 3-2):  Maybe the fan with the laser pointer was trying to show the Lions where the end zone is.

17. New Orleans Saints (No. 17; 2-3):  Barely winning at home is far more troubling than getting blown out on the road.

18. Houston Texans (No. 14; 3-2):  J.J. Watt’s case for MVP took a big hit when he missed his chance to blow up Tony Romo.

19. New York Giants (No. 25; 3-2):  Who said the Giants would stink this year?  Other than everyone?

20. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 16; 2-3):  With Denver and San Diego in the division, the Chiefs’ only hope for getting back to the playoffs will be winning a scrum for the No. 6 seed.

21. Cleveland Browns (No. 22; 2-2):  If the Browns had gotten blown out in Jimmy Haslam’s home state of Tennessee, he possibly would have traded for Jim Harbaugh this week.

22. Atlanta Falcons (No. 12; 2-3):  Going for it on fourth and short from his own 29 with more than four minutes to play and three time outs apparently means that coach Mike Smith agrees with his brother-in-law.

23. Chicago Bears (No. 18; 2-3):  The league has figured out Marc Trestman’s offense, and Marc Trestman hasn’t figured out how to counter that.

24. Miami Dolphins (No. 24; 2-2):  The last thing any team wants after a blowout win is a bye week.

25. New York Jets (No. 23; 1-4):  Will Rex Ryan keep his clock on East Coast time when he’s working as a defensive coordinator for a West Coast team?

26. Minnesota Vikings (No. 26; 2-3):  How bad would Thursday night’s game have been if the Packers had actually prepared to face Christian Ponder?

27. St. Louis Rams (No. 27; 1-3):  There’s not a clearly winnable game on the schedule under November 30.

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 28; 1-4):  The Bucs may have gained more confidence in losing at New Orleans than they did in winning at Pittsburgh.

29. Washington (No. 29; 1-4):  But for the flags, it would have been another 45-14 blowout on Monday night.

30. Tennessee Titans (No. 30; 1-4):  “Piss poor horrible” should be the title of this season’s highlight DVD.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 31; 0-5):  Apologizing for something the mascot did is a lot easier than apologizing for what the team doesn’t do every Sunday.

32.  Oakland Raiders (No. 32; 0-4):  Interim coach Tony Sparano has buried a football.  He should have waited until the players dove in the hole for it.

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NFL morning after: The agony of defeat

austindavis AP

Have you ever seen more heartbreaking losses on one Sunday in the NFL than we saw yesterday? It was like we saw every possible kind of terrible way to lose in one day:

Kicker meltdown.

The Lions jumped out to a 14-3 lead in the first half and seemed to be in total control of the game against the Bills. On their first possession of the second half, they marched down the field into field goal range, and it felt like the kind of game where the Lions were just going to need one more score to put it away. Instead, Alex Henery missed from 44 yards. But, OK, the Lions were still in control, still up 14-3, and marched into field goal range again on their next possession. Henery missed again, from 47 yards. Still, the Lions were in control, right? Not for long. The Bills used the good field position from Henery’s miss to move into range for a field goal of their own to make it 14-6. Then late in the game the Bills got a touchdown and two-point conversion to make it 14-14.

So, at this point? If you’re Lions coach Jim Caldwell, you probably figure you need a touchdown to win the game and you won’t put Henery out there again, right? Wrong again. After a Matthew Stafford-to-Golden Tate pass got the Lions in field goal range, Henery trotted out there one last time and missed from 50 yards with 21 seconds left. All the Bills needed from there was one Kyle Orton-to-Sammy Watkins pass to set up Dan Carpenter’s 58-yard game winner.

If you’re a Lions fan, Carpenter’s kick is the one that really hits you in the gut: Carpenter can make one from 58 with the game on the line, and our guy can’t even make one?!? The Lions already cut one kicker this season, rookie Nate Freese, before signing Henery. They’ll surely cut Henery this week. On the year, they’re 1-for-9 on field goals longer than 30 yards. Maybe they can finally find someone who’s capable of making a field goal.

Blowing a big lead.

The Titans really needed a win after three straight blowout losses, and from all appearances they were going to get that win on Sunday: They jumped out to a 28-3 lead against the Browns.

And then they blew it, as everything went wrong. Jake Locker had been knocked out of the game with an injury to his throwing hand, and backup Charlie Whitehurst, who threw two quick touchdowns when he first entered the game, proceeded to do nothing the rest of the way. Meanwhile, the Titans’ defense suddenly couldn’t stop Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer or running back Ben Tate, as Hoyer passed for three touchdowns and Tate ran for 122 yards.

Despite all that, the Titans still had the ball and the lead late in the fourth quarter, when Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt made the surprising decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 on their own side of the field. The quarterback sneak got stuffed and the Browns were in business, taking advantage of the short field and marching 42 yards for a touchdown to steal a 29-28 win. The Titans choked away a 25-point lead, the largest lead a home team has ever blown in NFL history.

bortlesThe first win that could have been.

Speaking of teams that need a win, the Jaguars have looked like the worst team in the league this year, starting the season with with four straight losses, all by at least 17 points. But against the Steelers on Sunday, the Jaguars kept it close and actually looked like they had a chance to win. Only to throw it away in the fourth quarter.

Jacksonville trailed only 10-9 and had the ball with 12 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, and it felt like the kind of moment that quarterback Blake Bortles could seize upon as the day that established him as the quarterback of the future for a franchise that desperately needs one. So what did Bortles do? He threw an interception that Pittsburgh’s Brice McCain ran back 22 yards for a touchdown. Jacksonville never came close to scoring after that.

When you’re a team as bad as the Jaguars, you just can’t throw away opportunities like they had against the Steelers. Forget being a surprise playoff team, as some thought they’d be this year. The Jaguars look like a team that could find a way to lose every game.

You can’t just give touchdowns away.

In the first quarter, the Rams gave up a blocked punt that the Eagles turned into a touchdown. In the third quarter, the Rams fumbled once in the end zone that the Eagles recovered in the end zone for a touchdown, and had another fumble that the Eagles returned to the 24-yard line, setting up a 24-yard touchdown pass for the Eagles. That’s three touchdowns the Rams practically gift-wrapped for Philadelphia.

And what really hurts the Rams is that those three miserable plays aside, they actually outplayed the Eagles in Philadelphia’s 34-28 win. Rams quarterback Austin Davis was excellent, completing 29 of 49 passes for 375 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Davis, who entered the season as the third-string quarterback, is only playing because both Sam Bradford and Shaun Hill got hurt. But Davis looks like he could win a lot of games for the Rams. If only the players around him wouldn’t give the game away.

The ill-timed, stupid mistakes.

A five-yard penalty isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things. But the Chiefs had about the worst timing possible on a five-yard penalty against the 49ers on Sunday.

With San Francisco clinging to a 19-17 lead and four minutes to play, the Chiefs had stopped the 49ers on fourth down and forced them to settle for a long field goal attempt with five minutes to play. Even if the 49ers had made it, there would have been plenty of time for the Chiefs to march down the field for a touchdown and win the game.

Instead, the Chiefs were flagged for having 12 players on the field as the 49ers lined up for their field goal. That five yards gave the 49ers a first down, and they proceeded to march down the field and bleed another three minutes off the clock before kicking a field goal.

And then Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith made his own ill-timed mistake, throwing a bad pass and getting intercepted with two minutes left to seal the Chiefs’ loss.

fortefumblePenalties and turnovers can kill you.

The Bears had 10 penalties for 80 yards in their loss to the Panthers, but they could have overcome that and won — if they hadn’t also lost four turnovers.

Although the Bears had an early 21-7 lead, they were sloppy late losing three of their four turnovers in the final six minutes of the game: Jay Cutler threw an interception with six minutes left that set up a Panthers field goal to tie the game, Matt Forte lost a fumble with four minutes left that set up a Panthers touchdown to take the lead, and Cutler lost a fumble with one minute left that ended the Bears’ final drive.

The Bears made ugly mistakes from the beginning, including an odd first-quarter play on which Bears special teamer Teddy Williams drilled Panthers punt returner Philly Brown before Brown could field a punt. That was a dumb penalty, but even dumber was that no one on the Bears downed the ball, so Brown got up, picked the ball up and ran 79 yards for a touchdown. And the Bears’ defense got in on the act as well, with a facemask penalty and a pass interference penalty in the end zone on back-to-back plays setting up another Panthers touchdown. These are the mistakes that kill a team.

The methodical fourth-quarter beating.

Late in the third quarter on Sunday in Falcons had a 20-10 lead and felt like they were in total control of the game. And then these were the next eight drives:

    Giants 9 plays, 81 yards, touchdown.
    Falcons three-and-out.
    Giants 11 plays, 64 yards, touchdown.
    Falcons three-and-out.
    Giants seven plays, 24 yards, field goal.
    Falcons four plays, zero yards, turnover on downs.
    Giants seven plays, 10 yards, field goal.
    Falcons eight plays, time runs out, end of game.

With that, the Giants scored 20 unanswered points and won 30-20. Sometimes those are the losses that are the most frustrating: No one big play, no bad calls or sudden changes of momentum. Just the team that you were dominating starts dominating you.

The quarterback of the future gives you nothing.

The Jets didn’t just lose a game in San Diego on Sunday. They also lost their coach and their quarterback.

Yes, Rex Ryan is still coach of the Jets, and yes, Geno Smith is still their starting quarterback. But really, after that 31-0 butt-kicking at the hands of the Chargers resulted in Smith getting benched at halftime and the Jets dropping to 1-4, is there any doubt in your mind that after this season, Smith is done as the franchise quarterback and Ryan is done as the head coach?

Smith completed 4-of-12 passes for just 27 yards and an interception before he was benched for Michael Vick, and he just doesn’t look like he’s developed as a passer at all during his season and a half in the NFL. That’s at least partially the fault of Ryan, who’s a defensive coach and never has figured out how to get his teams’ offenses going. Next year Ryan will probably be a good defensive coordinator somewhere. And Smith will probably be a backup quarterback somewhere. And Sunday’s loss to the Chargers will be what clinched it.

The season-changing upset that wasn’t.

Two weeks ago, the Buccaneers were thrashed by the Falcons on national television and looked like perhaps the worst team in the NFL. But after the Bucs upset the Steelers last week, they took a surprising 31-20 fourth-quarter lead in New Orleans on Sunday.

The Buccaneers were facing a potentially season-changing fourth quarter: Hold onto that lead, and all of a sudden you’re 2-3, you just won on the road against a divisional opponent, and you’re right in the thick of the playoff race. But Tampa collapsed, giving up a long touchdown drive to the Saints’ offense, followed by a sack in the end zone for a safety, followed by a drive that allowed the Saints to get into range for their game-tying field goal, followed by another long drive given up by their defense in overtime to give the Saints a 37-31 win.

For Lovie Smith’s young team, that loss was just awful. That was going around in the NFL on Sunday.

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Week Five early inactives

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions

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.

Bears at Panthers

Bears: T Jermon Bushrod, LB Shea McClellin, DT Jeremiah Ratliff, S Ahmad Dixon, C Roberto Garza, DB Sherrick McManis, OL Charles Leno

Panthers: RB DeAngelo Williams, FB Richie Brockel, QB Joe Webb, RB Jonathan Stewart, S Tre Boston, LB D.J. Smith, OL Andrew Norwell

Texans at Cowboys

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

Cowboys: LB Bruce Carter, DL Davon Coleman, DT Ken Bishop, T Donald Hawkins, DE Lavar Edwards, QB Dustin Vaughan, LB Korey Toomer

Bills at Lions

Bills: WR Marcus Easley, G Chris Williams, DT Kyle Williams, T Cyrus Kouandjio, LB Nigel Bradham, RB Bryce Brown, CB Ross Cockrell

Lions: RB Joique Bell, LB Travis Lewis, RB Theo Riddick, TE Joseph Fauria, CB Cassius Vaughn, QB Kellen Moore, DE Larry Webster

Ravens at Colts

Ravens: DE Chris Canty, LB Arthur Brown, T Eugene Monroe, G John Urschel, TE Phillip Supernaw, DT Timmy Jernigan, WR Michael Campanaro

Colts: DT Arthur Jones, G Jack Mewhort, CB Jalil Brown, LB Chris Carter, C Khaled Holmes, OL Jamon Meredith, DL Kelcy Quarles

Steelers at Jaguars

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

Jaguars: WR Cecil Shorts, WR Marqise Lee, CB Dwayne Gratz, G Tyler Shatley, LB Jeremiah George, WR Tavarres King, T Josh Wells

Buccaneers at Saints

Buccaneers: LB Mason Foster, WR Mike Evans, S Dashon Goldson, DE Larry English, QB Josh McCown, T Kevin Pamphile, G Kadeem Edwards

Saints: RB Mark Ingram, FB Erik Lorig, S Jairus Byrd, WR Joe Morgan, LB Ronald Powell, WR Nick Toon, DL Brandon Deaderick

Falcons at Giants

Falcons: G Justin Blalock, WR Harry Douglas, QB Sean Renfree, CB Javier Arenas, LB Tyler Starr, T Cameron Bradfield, DL Cliff Matthews

Giants: LB Jon Beason, WR Julian Talley, OL Adam Snyder, T Charles Brown, DE Kerry Wynn, T James Brewer, DT Jay Bromley

Rams at Eagles

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

Eagles: LB Mychal Kendricks, C Jason Kelce, QB Matt Barkley, DB Jaylen Watkins, OL Dennis Kelly, WR Jeff Maehl, DE Taylor Hart

Browns at Titans

Browns: DB Pierre Desir, RB Glenn Winston, DB Robert Nelson, DL Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, TE Gerell Robinson, DL John Hughes, WR Rodney Smith

Titans: QB Zach Mettenberger, WR Kris Durham, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, LB James Anderson, T Byron Stingily, TE Taylor Thompson, DL DaQuan Jones

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Week Five “Three and Out”

Watt Getty Images

The first stab at the new “Three and Out” series yielded mixed results.  It was well received, but it wasn’t all that well read.

Part of the problem is that I posted it on Sunday morning.  This week, I tried to get it done earlier.  (Whether I succeeded depends on the date and time listed above.)

So here are three questions (and answers) for each of the 13 games to be played this Sunday.  Which hopefully you’ll have a chance to ponder before this Sunday.

Bears at Panthers

1.  Are Panthers better off with Derek Anderson?

Crazy as it sounds, the answer to that one could be yes. Starter Cam Newton continues to recover from ankle surgery that he didn’t realize would be as major as it was.  (Hey, at least he didn’t end up like my old friend Mr. McGreg.)  A healthy Anderson could be the better option. And the Bears, like the Ravens a week ago, may be glad that the Panthers haven’t figured that out.

2.  Should Brandon Marshall ditch his Inside The NFL gig?

While a guy can do whatever he wants on his day off, a guy with a chronic ankle injury that caused him to miss every practice in the week before the Green Bay game could be better off spending Tuesday not flying back and forth to New York but spending extra time in the training room.  While Marshall has managed to practice this week, it’s a long season with plenty of bumps and bruises. Marshall would be better off contributing to the show from Halas Hall, or even better not at all.

3.  Can Jared Allen be a factor?

The sackmaster dropped 18 pounds last week with pneumonia. He’s healthy, but how will he be able to put the weight back on quickly enough to make a difference this Sunday? Even though he’ll be able to play, it’s too much to expect him to be able to play at a high level.

Texans at Cowboys

1.  How disruptive will J.J. Watt be?

The guy with the inside track for defensive player of the year and, potentially, NFL MVP has wreaked havoc week after week on opposing offensive lines. The Cowboys, with a trio of first-round picks up front as it tries build from the inside out, need to be able to keep Watt away from quarterback Tony Romo and running back DeMarco Murray.

2.  Can DeMarco Murray stay healthy?

Murray has never made it through a full NFL season without getting injured. As a rookie, he missed three games. In 2012, he missed six. Last year, Murray missed two.

Murray has looked great so far, winning NFC offensive player of the month honors for September. But it’s just a matter of time before he gets hurt. And time could be up this week, especially if J.J. Watt gets a shot at him.

3.  Is there hope for the Dallas pass rush?

The Cowboys’ defensive line had only 0.5 sacks through three games. Last week against the Saints, the Cowboys’ defensive line had two. Sure, one came on that botched punt fake. Regardless, the Cowboys could be verge of finally getting some real production out of a previously overmatched defensive line that should be the strength of a Tampa Two front.

Bills at Lions

1.  Can Calvin Johnson be a factor?

Megatron said his ankle is doing better, but he still didn’t practice much this week. Last week, he caught only two passes, largely serving as a decoy. This week against the Bills, his former head coach (who now coordinates the Buffalo defense) will likely sniff out early whether Johnson is at full speed, and adjust accordingly.

2.  Is Kyle Orton ready to roll?

There’s definitely no schism in Buffalo in the wake of the decision to go with a quarterback who out-Favred Brett Favre, signing after training camp and the preseason ended. Four games in to the regular season, Kyle Orton gets the start — and receiver Sammy Watkins already is sucking up to the veteran. For a guy who had been discarded as a starter three years ago, it’s a lot to expect him to make an immediate impact.  But given the absence of any Bills players questioning the move on or off the record, the bar had apparently gotten low with EJ Manuel.

3.  Can Reggie Bush carry the load?

Joique Bell (concussion) and Theo Riddick (hamstring) are out. Which means that Reggie Bush could be the workhorse again. Which would be fine with offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who believes Bush can do it, in limited spots. They’ll need him to do it in more than a limited spot on Sunday.

Ravens at Colts

1.  How loud will it be?

Earlier this week, Ravens coach John Harbaugh joked about the suspicions that the Colts pipe artificial noise into their home stadium.  Colts coach Chuck Pagano seized on the tongue-in-cheek slight, calling it an insult to the team’s fans.  Which could make them even louder on Sunday against the Ravens.  Which could make it harder to the Ravens to do what they want to do offensively.  Which could prompt John Harbaugh to quit making jokes that could get the other team’s fans riled up.

2.  Will Ravens use more press coverage?

Since losing to the Bengals after receiver A.J. Green got behind the defense late, the Ravens have kept their corners well off the line of scrimmage.  Which has resulted in a lot of quick passes against them.  While the Ravens have won three in a row while playing off the ball, they Colts could use a quick-strike attack in an effort to control the clock and methodically drive the ball.  And if that draws the Ravens toward the line of scrimmage, T.Y. Hilton could get behind them deep.

3.  Where’s Bernard Pierce?

Healthy last week, the man who supposedly was the back best suited to handle Gary Kubiak’s one-cut attack didn’t play.  So will Pierce play this week?  He had 96 yards in a Week Two win over the Steelers, and he hasn’t been heard from since.

Steelers at Jaguars

1.  Are the Steelers undisciplined?

Mike Tomlin suddenly doesn’t want to be known as a players’ coach.  Coincidentally, the team is undisciplined — which suggests that maybe Tomlin is being too easy on the players.  Or that maybe the players are being a little undisciplined because the team’s offensive coordinator missed a flight to Baltimore three weeks ago, with no apparent repercussions.  If the team doesn’t start playing with more discipline, there will be repercussions for plenty.

2.  How patient will Shad Khan be?

The Jaguars started 0-8 last year.  This year, they’re halfway to that mark.  And yet there’s no indication that Shad Khan, who has been making George Steinbrenner look like a Rooney when it comes to Khan’s English soccer club, is even contemplating the possibility of changing coaches or General Managers.  It helps that business is good, with folks flocking to the renovated stadium, complete with swimming pools and screens big enough to make everyone on them look like movie stars.  Then there’s the Blake Bortles effect, which gives hope at a time largely filled with hopelessness.  At some point, however, the Jags need to win games or Khan will be looking for someone who can.

3.  Is Bortles the next Roethlisberger?

The aging Steelers quarterback recently said the fledgling Jaguars quarterback is a young Roethlisberger.  And he’s right.  Bortles, like Ben, has the ability to extend plays by avoiding pressure behind the line, waiting for receivers to get open, and delivering the ball accurately.  Which could make it easier for the Steelers to defend Bortles as Pittsburgh tries to avoid losing to an otherwise winless Florida team in consecutive weeks.

Buccaneers at Saints

1.  Are the Saints done?

No.  The Saints have lost three road games and won their only home game.  They’ve got seven more in the Superdome.  The bigger question is whether and to what extent they can win enough on the road to get to the playoffs.

2.  What’s wrong with the defense?

Who knows?  Last year, first-year coordinator Rob Ryan turned the defense around dramatically.  This year, it’s been a dramatic downturn.  It’s possible that Ryan simply didn’t do enough self-scouting in the offseason to remove any tips, tells, or tendencies for his formations and other pre-snap clues regarding how and where the pressure will originate.  Either way, Rob won’t need to blame his lack of a haircut on the absence of interest in hiring him as a head coach come January.

3.  Is Mike Glennon Tampa’s quarterback of the present?

Apparently, yes.  While coach Lovie Smith has yet to give that label to the franchise’s quarterback of the past and future, Glennon will get the start this weekend, even though Josh McCown is available to play.  And it makes sense.  With McCown not getting it done and Glennon winning in Pittsburgh, why not let Glennon keep developing?

Falcons at Giants

1.  Who blocks for Matt Ryan?

Not who they had thought.  Three offensive lineman have landed on injured reserve, and another (Justin Blalock) is out for at least this week.  As a result, it will be Jake Matthews at left tackle, James Stone or Harland Gunn at left guard, Peter Konz at center, Jon Asamoah at right guard, and Gabe Carimi at right tackle.  And there are still 12 games to go, which means that even more injuries to the reshuffled are likely.

2.  Do the Falcons have a bad defense?

Brian Billick, the brother-in-law of coach, Mike Smith thinks so.  Actually, Billick thinks the Falcons’ defensive talent is among the worst in the NFL.  Which could set the stage for some finger-pointing between the coaching staff and the front office if the up-and-down Falcons ultimately are more down than up.  Regardless, Billick could be right; the Vikings shredded Atlanta last week both on the ground and in the air.  If the Giants do the same thing, it’ll be alarming.

3.  Will Odell Beckham finally play?

Perhaps.  Despite plenty of talk that the 12th overall pick in the 2014 draft will finally make his debut due to a lingering hamstring problem, the Giants officially have listed Beckham as questionable.  It means he’s 50-50 to play.  The chances of him making an immediate impact are much smaller, since even if he’s healthy he’s way behind in his overall preparation and development.

Rams at Eagles

1.  Why are the Eagles dealing with so many injuries?

Last year, Chip Kelly’s revolutionary approach to training and nutrition and just about everything else kept the Eagles healthy for most of the season.  This year, not.

While it’s safe to say that Kelly’s ways haven’t suddenly made guys more susceptible to injury, it’s also clear that personalized smoothies won’t make the consequences of a violent game any less severe.  Ultimately, luck has a lot to do with it, and the teams that have bad luck had better have plenty of depth.  For the Eagles, the depth simply hasn’t been there on the offensive line.

The good news is that right tackle Lane Johnson returns after a four-game suspension for ingesting something far more potent than a smoothie.

2.  What’s wrong with the Rams’ pass rush?

The absence of defensive end Chris Long is a factor, but the team still has enough talent elsewhere on the line, with Robert Quinn leading the way.  Still, the Rams have only one sack through three games.

In part, the lack of sacks arises from an inability to stop the run.  But even with a 21-0 lead against the Cowboys and Dallas having to throw the ball to get back into it, the Rams weren’t able to get to Tony Romo.

It’s gotten so bad that the players are now calling it a “sack curse,” and they’re looking to the luck of the ladybug to end it.

3.  What’s wrong with LeSean McCoy?

No one really knows.  It’s easy to blame the offensive line, but McCoy simply isn’t running like he used to.  He’ll need to get back to his old ways soon, or the Eagles will have a hard time carrying his future salaries.

Through four games, he has only 192 yards on 70 attempts.  That’s an average of 2.7 yards per carry.  And that’s not good.

Browns at Titans

1.  Jake Locker will play.  Does it matter?

Probably not. Despite a head-scratching Week One win over a Chiefs team that may have been feeling a more than a little complacent, the Titans have played poorly with and without Locker.  While the problems go far deeper than the 2011 first-round pick about whom the Titans didn’t feel strongly enough to pick up a fifth-year option, Locker isn’t good enough to overcome those deficiencies on a consistent basis.

While that doesn’t mean the Titans are guaranteed to lose on Sunday, they’re destined to continue to, as Bernard Pollard so eloquently put it this week, be “piss poor horrible.”

2.  Will we see more Johnny Manziel?

The rookie said this week that he misses college.  Which makes sense, since he surely misses playing.  With two weeks to game-plan for Sunday’s game in Nashville, don’t be shocked if the Browns have a few more sideline-psych tricks up their sleeve against the Titans — especially since this will be the first time Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam takes the Browns to his home state of Tennessee.

3.  How will the Browns divvy up the touches at tailback?

First, it depends on the health of Ben Tate.  Listed as probable with a knee injury suffered in Week One, Tate may not be ready to carry the load.  Backup Terrance West says the Browns will go with the hot hand.  Isaiah Crowell, who has been a factor the last few weeks, could see more action.

In the end, the Browns could rotate all three until someone shows the consistent ability to move the chains.  Which will drive fantasy owners crazy, even if the end results delights Browns fans.

Cardinals at Broncos

1.  When will we see Carson Palmer again?

At this point, no one knows.  He has said that the nerve in his shoulder will wake up in its own time.  The nerve has since emerged from its slumber only to lapse back into a coma.  Which means that Drew Stanton will continue to start, and that Palmer’s short-term and long-term future will remain cloudy.  Keep an eye on Logan Thomas; if/when Stanton struggles, the rookie could get a chance to show that he’s the best option, both in 2014 and beyond.

2.  Where’s Montee Ball?

Anywhere but among the best running backs in the league.  Averaging 55 yards per game and 3.4 per carry, Ball is a far cry from being the guy players like Peyton Manning had hyped Ball to be.  If Dolphins tailback Knowshon Moreno weren’t currently out with an elbow injury, the Broncos surely would be facing criticism for not bringing back the former first-rounder who went from being bust to bellcow once Peyton arrived.

3.  What were the Steelers thinking when they “retired” Bruce Arians?

Lost in the recent struggles of the Pittsburgh Steelers is that their run of non-playoff appearances began when they “retired” offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.  That was the label applied by the team to the decision to fire Arians, and to hope he’d choose to quit coaching.  He didn’t, which was great news for the Colts in 2012 and the Cardinals ever since.

Arians, who’s showing his shot should have come much earlier, held the Colts together while coach Chuck Pagano battled leukemia and took the Cardinals to a 10-6 record in the toughest division in football.  Now, the Cardinals are undefeated despite numerous injuries, defections, and suspensions.

Ultimately, Arians shouldn’t be upset that the Steelers fired him without really firing him.  If they hadn’t, Arians never would have enjoyed perhaps the best three years of his career.

Jets at Chargers

1.  When will we see Mike Vick?

Pretty soon, unless coach Rex Ryan truly has no control over the quarterback position.  And with owner Woody Johnson declaring this week that he believes Geno Smith can be a franchise quarterback, it’s possible that the powers-that-be have supplied Ryan with an edict that he shalt not bench Geno.  If, in return, Rex has received a guarantee that he won’t be held responsible for a season that is teetering close to the brink, then it would be hard for him to complain.

2.  How bad is the Chargers’ running game?

It’s not great, due to injuries to Ryan Mathews and Danny WoodheadDonald Brown hasn’t gotten it done, and the interior of the offensive line bears plenty of the blame.  Fortunately for the Chargers, quarterback Philip Rivers has bailed out the anemic rushing attack, which is averaging a league-low 2.4 yards per carry.  Which could be the best argument in favor for Rivers’ MVP candidacy.

3.  How far can the Chargers go?

Not very far if they can’t run the ball in January.  But this team, largely overlooked after an unlikely playoff berth in 2013, has a special feel to it.  Not intimidated by the Broncos and good enough to beat them in Denver, the Chargers ultimately could swipe both the division title and the top seed in the playoffs, for the first time since they squandered the No. 1 with a Schottenheimer-killing home loss to the Patriots in early 2007.

Chiefs at 49ers

1.  Did the 49ers make the right choice?

They’d never admit if they feared they didn’t, and a strong argument could be made that Colin Kaepernick has the larger upside over the long haul.  Kaepernick’s team-friendly contract also gives the 49ers far more flexibility than if they’d tied their hands with a deal like the one the Chiefs gave Smith.

Still, a persuasive argument also could be made that Smith is more consistent and dependable, week in and week out.  Kaepernick has had too many pedestrian performances to be regarded as a franchise quarterback.  Smith’s performances are consistently above average.

While Kaepernick was quick to point out this week that the two quarterbacks won’t really be facing each other because they won’t be on the field at the same time, it’s the closest thing to an apples-to-apples comparison we’ll ever see.  And both guys will be motivated to ask the other guy when the final gun sounds, “Do you like apples?

2.  Is Deion right?

If he’s wrong about his report that the 49ers players want coach Jim Harbaugh out, Deion will never admit it, in large part because there’s no way Deion’s report ever could be proven incorrect.  It could be that the players are simply weary of the actual or perceived (or actual) dysfunction between Harbaugh and the front office, and that the players want the friction to end.  If the only way it will end is for Harbaugh to move on, then there indeed could be some players who would like to see that happen.

3. Is DeAnthony Thomas ready to make an impact?

A week after the 49ers faced former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, the Niners could be facing one of his recruits.  And Thomas could be trying to do what Darren Sproles successfully did on Sunday — return a punt for a touchdown.

Thomas, a former Duck who arrived via round four of the draft, has missed the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury.  Chiefs special-teams coach Dave Toub has hinted that Thomas may return punts, which based on San Fran’s failure to bottle up Sproles could be bad news for the home team.

Bengals at Patriots

1.  How bad are the Patriots?

Not as bad as everyone thinks.  Bill Belichick the coach has been making up for the failures of Bill Belichick the de facto G.M. ever since Scott Pioli left for Kansas City, and Belichick is good enough as a coach to come up with a game plan to beat the Bengals — especially at a time when Belichick can use the universal criticism of the Patriots as fodder for pushing the players’ buttons.  While profound flaws remain, Belichick knows how to come up with ways to conceal them.  And he surely is determined to show everyone that he still knows how to do it.

2.  How good are the Bengals?

The oddsmakers have plenty of faith in them, which means the betting public is warming to the notion of Cincinnati continuing its march toward the postseason.  But most will continue to be skeptical until the Bengals win a playoff game.  Which will create even more pressure for the Bengals when they prepare to go for their first playoff win since the week before they obliterated Bo Jackson’s hip.

3.  What’s the deal with Aaron Dobson?

If there’s a football reason for not playing the 2013 second-round pick for the last two weeks, it flows from his inability to get open in the limited time Tom Brady has to throw the ball.  It the report is accurate that Dobson was deactivated twice for getting mouthy with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, don’t count on the Patriots admitting it, given that teams technically aren’t supposed to discipline players by shutting them down, with pay.

The Patriots are clearly sensitive to that perception.  At a time when Belichick has insisted he’s “on to Cincinnati,” he took the time to issue a statement rebutting the report and insisting that Dobson’s failure to play in the past two games had everything to do with football and nothing to do with discipline.

Regardless, the Patriots need to find a way to get more out of Dobson, who could end up being the latest Belichick draft-pick bust at the receiver position.

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Week Five injury report roundup

Miami Dolphins v Buffalo Bills 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 Five of the 2014 season.

Bears at Panthers

The Bears will be without left tackle Jermon Bushrod (knee, ankle), but they hope to have center Roberto Garza (ankle, questionable) and left guard Matt Slauson (ankle, questionable) back in the lineup for the first time since the season opener. Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (concussion), linebacker Shea McClellin(hand) and safety Ahmad Dixon (hamstring) have also been ruled out, but defensive end Jared Allen (illness, probable) and wide receiver Brandon Marshall (ankle, probable) are expected to play. The Panthers won’t have running back DeAngelo Williams (ankle) or fullback Richie Brockel (ankle), and running back Jonathan Stewart (knee, doubtful) is almost certainly joining them on the sideline. Defensive end Charles Johnson (hip, probable) should play.

Texans at Cowboys

The Texans ruled out two cornerbacks — A.J. Bouye (groin) and Darryl Morris (ankle) — and safety Eddie Pleasant (ankle), which may be pleasant for Tony Romo. The team is optimistic about wide receiver Andre Johnson (ankle, questionable) playing, though. Dallas will play without linebacker Bruce Carter (thigh) and they’ll wait for Sunday to say whether defensive tackle Henry Melton (hamstring, questionable) can go.

Bills at Lions

The Bills defense will suffer if defensive tackle Kyle Williams (knee, doubtful) and linebacker Nigel Bradham (knee, doubtful) don’t make some rapid improvement. Wide receiver Marcus Easley (knee) and guard Chris Williams (back) have already been ruled out. The Lions got wide receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle, questionable) back at practice and wide receiver Golden Tate (hamstring, probable) looks good to go. Running backs Joique Bell (concussion) and Theo Riddick (hamstring) are out, however.

Ravens at Colts

The Ravens listed defensive end Chris Canty (illness), defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) and left tackle Eugene Monroe (knee) as doubtful, which means they’ll likely be without all three. Linebacker Terrell Suggs (groin) practiced Friday and is questionable. Defensive tackle Arthur Jones (ankle) will miss the reunion with his old team and the Colts will also be without guard Jack Mewhort (ankle). Linebacker Jerrell Freeman (hamstring, probable) is set to return.

Steelers at Jaguars

Pittsburgh will go without linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee) and cornerback Ike Taylor (arm) again this week. The rest of the Steelers look ready for Sunday, but the Jags won’t have wide receivers Cecil Shorts (hamstring) and Marqise Lee (hamstring), cornerback Dwayne Gratz (concussion) or tight end Mickey Shuler (illness).

Buccaneers at Saints

The Buccaneers saw wide receiver Mike Evans (groin) and safety Dashon Goldson (ankle) leave last week’s victory and both will miss this week’s game as well. Linebacker Mason Foster (shoulder, questionable) could return to the lineup, while things look less optimistic for quarterback Josh McCown (thump, questionable) and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (ankle, questionable) after they missed practice all week. The Saints lost safety Jairus Byrd (knee) for the season and running back Mark Ingram (hand) is out another week.

Falcons at Giants

The Falcons offense will have to go without guard Justin Blalock (back) and wide receiver Harry Douglas (foot), but wide receivers Devin Hester (ankle, probable) and wide receiver Julio Jones (ankle, probable) should play. The Giants could see first-round wide receiver Odell Beckham (hamstring, questionable) make his pro debut and they hope to have linebacker Jon Beason (foot, questionable) in the lineup as well.

Rams at Eagles

The Rams will make a game-time decision on wide receiver Tavon Austin (knee, questionable), but they know they won’t have offensive lineman Barrett Jones (back), cornerback Trumaine Johnson (knee) or cornerback Brandon McGee (knee). Quarterback Shaun Hill (calf) is probable, but won’t be starting. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks (calf) will miss another game for the Eagles and cornerback Brandon Boykin (hamstring) is questionable.

Browns at Titans

The Browns listed defensive lineman Desmond Bryant (glute, wrist) as questionable, but the 53-man roster is in otherwise good shape coming off their bye week. That includes tight end Jordan Cameron (shoulder, probable), although he said this week that he expects his injury to linger for a while. Quarterback Jake Locker (wrist, probable) will be back in the starting lineup, but cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson (concussion, questionable) wasn’t able to practice at all this week.

Cardinals at Broncos

Quarterback Carson Palmer (shoulder) is out again for the Cardinals and linebacker Glenn Carson (ankle) will also be on the sideline after showing up on the injury report on Friday. Coach Bruce Arians said he expects guard Paul Fanaika (knee, questionable) and cornerback Patrick Peterson (illness, probable) to play. The Broncos return from the bye week with linebacker Danny Trevathan (knee, probable) expected to play for the first time this season.

Jets at Chargers

Things looked bleak all week, but the Jets are holding out hope for wide receivers Eric Decker (hamstring, questionable) and David Nelson (ankle, questionable). Cornerback Dee Milliner (quad, probable) should be back in the lineup. The Chargers come into the weekend with six players ruled out. Running back Ryan Mathews (knee), linebacker Manti Te’o (foot), linebacker Jerry Attaochu (hamstring), center Rich Ohrnberger (back), linebacker Reggie Walker (ankle) and cornerback Shareece Wright (knee) are all out for the home team. Linebacker Dwight Freeney (knee) and defensive tackle Corey Liuget (concussion) are both questionable and the Chargers would be stretched thin if both of them can’t go.

Chiefs at 49ers

Safety Eric Berry (ankle) is out again for Kansas City, but running back Jamaal Charles (ankle, probable) is good to go. Running back De’Anthony Thomas (hamstring, probable) appears set to make his pro debut. Cornerback Tramaine Brock (toe), tackle Anthony Davis (knee, ankle), tight end Vernon Davis (back), tight end Vance McDonald (knee), safety Eric Reid (hamstring) and defensive tackle Ian Williams (ankle) are all questionable. Neither Davis was able to practice at all this week, but the team’s not closing the door.

Bengals at Patriots

The Bengals got linebacker Vontaze Burfict (concussion) back at practice in limited fashion, but he’s doubtful to play. Wide receiver Marvin Jones is also doubtful after injuring his ankle upon his return from a foot injury and guard Kevin Zeitler (calf) got the same designation. Finger injuries will cost the Patriots the services of defensive back Nate Ebner and offensive lineman Cameron Fleming, while linebacker Jamie Collins (thigh), cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (shoulder), defensive tackle Dominique Easley (knee), linebacker Dont’a Hightower (knee) and defensive end Chandler Jones (shoulder) are all questionable.

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PFT’s Week Five picks

Brady Getty Images

Last week, MDS was getting cocky, again.  After sweeping the three early games on which we disagreed, he’d clinched the weekly win.  But two disagreements remained — and both of them (Vikings and Chiefs) went my way.

Net result?  MDS added a game to his lead.  He’s now up by two games through four weeks.

For the full week, MDS went 7-6.  I went 6-7, a far cry from a 13-3 performance in Week Three.

For the year, MDS leads at 35-26.  I’m at 33-28.  For both of us, that’s sort of pathetic.

Vikings at Packers

MDS’s take: The Packers already trail the Lions in the NFC North and with a loss would also trail the Vikings, while having lost head-to-head games with both. If that happens some Green Bay fans might panic. But Green Bay fans can R-E-L-A-X, because it won’t happen.

MDS’s pick: Packers 28, Vikings 14.

Florio’s takeTeddy Bridgewater will play.  Unless he doesn’t.  Aaron Rodgers will, and that’s all that matters.  Despite the struggles against Mike Zimmer in the past.  After all, Tom Brady struggled against Zimmer last year, too.  And the Vikings are perhaps the only team that have allowed Brady to look like Brady this year.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 27, Vikings 17.

Bears at Panthers

MDS’s take: This may be the toughest game of the week to pick. Are the Panthers the team that gave the Lions their only loss and shut down a good Detroit offense? Or are the Panthers the team that got blown out by the Steelers and Ravens in the two games since that win over Detroit? I think it’s the latter, and Jay Cutler will have a big day against a defense that misses Greg Hardy’s presence as a pass rusher.

MDS’s pick: Bears 31, Panthers 17.

Florio’s take:  The Bears would rather face Cam Newton than Derek Anderson.  They’ll get their wish, as long as they don’t injure Newton.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 30, Panthers 17.

Browns at Titans

MDS’s take: Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt admitted this week that he may have overestimated how good the team he inherited was. The Browns, on the other hand, have been underestimated this season. They’ve got talent on both sides of the ball, and they’ll earn a big win in Tennessee.

MDS’s pick: Browns 34, Titans 20.

Florio’s take:  The Titans are “piss poor horrible,” according to safety Bernard Pollard.  Browns owner Jimmy Haslam probably will say something a lot stronger than that if Cleveland loses in his home state of Tennessee.

Florio’s pick:  Browns 20, Titans 13.

Rams at Eagles

MDS’s take: The Eagles have been missing a lot of opportunities offensively, with Nick Foles failing to connect on his deep balls. I think the Rams’ defense, which is struggling to rush the passer, is going to give Foles plenty of time to find receivers downfield, and this should be a big win for Philadelphia.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 35, Rams 21.

Florio’s take:  Philly’s offensive line is struggling, but so is the supposedly dominant St. Louis defensive line.  Look for Chip Kelly to draw up a game plan that gets the most out of a quintet of blockers that welcomes back Lane Johnson.  And that shuts down an offense that Austin Davis has wrested from Shaun Hill.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 34, Rams 17.

Falcons at Giants

MDS’s take: After a slow start, the Giants are looking like a better team than most people expected. The Falcons are are a threat to score a lot of points against anyone as long as they have Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White, but the injuries on the offensive line are going to catch up to Atlanta. The Falcons’ pass defense is also going to struggle against Eli Manning and Co.

MDS’s pick: Giants 27, Falcons 20.

Florio’s take:  The home team has won the last two games in this series by the combined score of 58-2.  While a blowout may not be in the offing, the Giants have shown that they’re not the team that stumbled out of the games.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 24, Falcons 17.

Buccaneers at Saints

MDS’s take: The Saints are clearly not as good a team as most of us expected, and their defense is a mess. But the Bucs’ offense has its own problems, and the Bucs’ defense is going to allow Drew Brees to put up some big passing numbers.

MDS’s pick: Saints 24, Buccaneers 21.

Florio’s take:  The 1-3 Saints have had only one game at home.  Not coincidentally, it’s the one game they’ve won.  They’ll likely win another one on Sunday.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 40, Buccaneers 21.

Texans at Cowboys

MDS’s take: The battle for Texas is a battle of two teams that are playing better than most people expected. The Texans have an efficient offense and a strong defensive front led by MVP candidate J.J. Watt, but the Cowboys may have the best offensive line in the league, and they’ll control the game on the ground to win a close one.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 23, Texans 20.

Florio’s take:  Did anyone expect either of these teams to be 3-1?  They both are, and barring a tie one will be 4-1.  Advantage home team.  As long as DeMarco Murray and Tony Romo stay healthy.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 24, Texans 17.

Bills at Lions

MDS’s take: Benching EJ Manuel for Kyle Orton may have been the right move in the short term, as Manuel just isn’t playing well enough right now. Orton will probably have a solid game passing against the Lions, and I’m tempted to pick the Bills in the upset, but I’ll count on Calvin Johnson to get healthier and have a big game in a Lions win.

MDS’s pick: Lions 27, Bills 24.

Florio’s take:  Jim Schwartz is back, and the Lions have a chance to show him how good they are without him.  Given that Schwartz’s defense will be offset by an offense led by Kyle Orton, that should be easy to do.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 31, Bills 20.

Ravens at Colts

MDS’s take: Andrew Luck and Joe Flacco both put up big numbers last week, and I think they can both have big numbers this week as well. Look for Luck’s numbers to be a big bigger and the Colts to win a high-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Colts 31, Ravens 28.

Florio’s take:  Thirty years after the Colts bolted from Baltimore, Baltimore’s current team looks to settle the score.  And Indy’s coach used to work for the Ravens.  And Baltimore’s defense could have a hard time against some decisive, quick-strike passing from Andrew Luck.  And the Indy crowd will be extra loud, thanks to John Harbaugh’s joke that they pipe in crowd noise.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 24, Ravens 21.

Steelers at Jaguars

MDS’s take: The Steelers lost to one of the worst teams in the league last week. Will they do it again this week? No.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 27, Jaguars 7.

Florio’s take:  Once one of the best rivalries in the AFC Central, the Jaguars actually lead the regular-season series 11-10.  If Pittsburgh doesn’t run its current winning streak over Jacksonville to three, it could be time for folks in Pittsburgh to start watching the Penguins.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 24, Jaguars 10.

Cardinals at Broncos

MDS’s take: The undefeated Cardinals probably aren’t getting as much credit as they deserve for the way they’ve played through three games, but they’ll get all the credit in the world if they can win in Denver. But I don’t see it happening. Arizona’s offense won’t put many points on the board against a good Denver D.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 24, Cardinals 10.

Florio’s take:  The last time both Peyton Manning and his opponent had two weeks to prepare for a game, it wasn’t pretty for Peyton.  But the Broncos likely will be facing Drew Stanton, and Denver has every reason to hold serve at home against the upstarts from the place the Broncos hope to play in February.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 30, Cardinals 17.

Chiefs at 49ers

MDS’s take: Alex Smith would love to win in San Francisco and make the case that the 49ers were wrong to trade him away. But the 49ers weren’t wrong, and Colin Kaepernick will out-play his former teammate in a San Francisco win.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 21, Chiefs 14.

Florio’s take:  Alex Smith returns to San Francisco, nearly two years after a concussion gave Colin Kaepernick an opening to take the job.  Smith will be motivated to prove the 49ers screwed up.  Kaepernick will be motivated to prove they didn’t.  The 49ers still have the better supporting cast, and they’re playing at home.  While the 49ers may have chosen the wrong guy, the 49ers know how to defend Smith far better than the Chiefs know how to defend Kaepernick.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 24, Chiefs 21.

Jets at Chargers

MDS’s take: The Jets’ offense is a mess, and the defense isn’t playing very well, either. The Chargers are better on both sides of the ball and will win an easy one.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 28, Jets 10.

Florio’s takeGeno Smith or Mike Vick, these Jets aren’t good enough to beat these Chargers.  Philip Rivers continues to make a case for MVP, and San Diego continues to look like a team that could topple the Broncos when it counts.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 31, Jets 20.

Bengals at Patriots

MDS’s take: The Bengals’ pass defense is excellent, and the Patriots’ pass offense is lousy. (It sounds strange to say about a Tom Brady-led team, but it’s true.) The Patriots won’t be able to move the ball and the Bengals will win a defensive struggle.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 20, Patriots 10.

Florio’s take:  For the Patriots, it’s the last, best chance to show that they remain viable contenders.  For the Bengals, it’s the first, best chance to put the rest of the league on notice that they are ready not just to get back to the playoffs but to win a postseason game.  While New England’s flaws remain significant and potentially fatal to a playoff berth, if they can’t get it together for a nationally-televised prime-time game against a team trying to become what the Pats have been, they never will.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 30, Bengals 27.

Seahawks at Washington

MDS’s take: Kirk Cousins had a miserable night last week. He’s going to have an even more miserable night when the Seahawks’ defense comes to town. This looks like a Monday night game that will have fans going to bed early.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 40, Washington 14.

Florio’s takeTrent Williams thinks Washington can beat Seattle.  We think Trent Williams needs to take a closer look at the film of his team’s most recent home game.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 34, Washington 13.

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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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