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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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Week Four early inactives

Jake Locker AP

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

Lions at Jets

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

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

Bills at Texans

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

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

Panthers at Ravens

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

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

Packers at Bears

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

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

Titans at Colts

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

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

Dolphins vs. Raiders (in London)

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

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

Buccaneers at Steelers

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

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

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Week Four “Three and Out”

Rodgers Getty Images

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

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

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

Or how many of you don’t.

Panthers at Ravens

1.  Who’ll run the ball for Carolina?

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

2.  Who the hell is James Hurst?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Packers at Bears

1.  Where have you gone, Jermichael?

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

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

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

2.  Is it really time to R-E-L-A-X?

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

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

3.  When will Brandon Marshall’s ankle heal?

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

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

Bills at Texans

1.  Will Arian Foster play?

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

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

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

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

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

3.  Can Fitzpatrick keep it up?

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

Titans at Colts

1.  Charlie Whitehurst?  Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.  Is Russell Wilson really better than Andrew Luck?

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

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

Lions at Jets

1.  How short is the leash on Geno Smith?

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.  Where’s Eric Ebron hiding?

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

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

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

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

Dolphins at Raiders

1.  Is Ryan Tannehill about to be benched?

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

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

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

2.  Is Dennis Allen about to be fired?

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

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

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

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

Buccaneers at Steelers

1.  How bad are the Buccaneers?

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

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

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

2.  Can the Steelers overcome defensive injuries?

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

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

3.  Where’s Dri Archer?

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

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

Jaguars at Chargers

1.  Can Blake Bortles make a difference?

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

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

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

2.  Can Donald Brown carry the rushing attack?

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

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

Maybe they should trade for Trent Richardson.

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

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

So, basically, he’s not better.

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

Falcons at Vikings

1.  Is Teddy ready?

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

2.  Who replaces Kyle Rudolph?

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

3.  How much more can Devin Hester do?

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

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

Eagles at 49ers

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

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

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

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

2.  Can the Eagles stop Colin Kaepernick?

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

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

3.  What’s wrong with LeSean McCoy?

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

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

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

Saints at Cowboys

1.  Were we wrong about the Cowboys?

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

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

2.  Where’s the Dallas pass rush?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MEMORANDUM

To: Chief Executives
Club Presidents

From: Commissioner Goodell

Date: September 26, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Week Four injury report roundup

St. Louis Rams v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

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

Panthers at Ravens

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

Packers at Bears

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

Bills at Texans

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

Titans at Colts

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

Lions at Jets

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

Dolphins vs. Raiders (in London)

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

Buccaneers at Steelers

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

Jaguars at Chargers

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

Falcons at Vikings

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

Eagles at 49ers

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

Saints at Cowboys

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

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PFT’s Week Four picks

Brady AP

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

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

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

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

Giants at Washington

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

MDS’s pick: Washington 28, Giants 17.

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

Florio’s pick:  Washington 27, Giants 20.

Packers at Bears

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

MDS’s pick: Bears 24, Packers 21.

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

Florio’s pick:  Bears 20, Packers 13.

Bills at Texans

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

MDS’s pick: Texans 20, Bills 13.

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

Florio’s pick:  Bills 23, Texans 14.

Titans at Colts

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

MDS’s pick: Colts 27, Titans 17.

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

Florio’s pick:  Colts 42, Titans 13.

Panthers at Ravens

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

MDS’s pick: Ravens 34, Panthers 17.

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

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 30, Panthers 17.

Lions at Jets

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

MDS’s pick: Lions 17, Jets 7.

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

Florio’s pick:  Jets 23, Lions 19.

Buccaneers at Steelers

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

MDS’s pick: Steelers 24, Buccaneers 20.

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

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 27, Buccaneers 10.

Dolphins at Raiders

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

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 10, Raiders 7.

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

Florio’s pick:  Raiders 16, Dolphins 13.

Jaguars at Chargers

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

MDS’s pick: Chargers 31, Jaguars 17.

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

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 35, Jaguars 17.

Falcons at Vikings

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

MDS’s pick: Falcons 24, Vikings 20.

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

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 24, Falcons 21.

Eagles at 49ers

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

MDS’s pick: 49ers 27, Eagles 21.

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

Florio’s pick:  49ers 28, Eagles 27.

Saints at Cowboys

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

MDS’s pick: Saints 34, Cowboys 20.

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

Florio’s pick:  Saints 35, Cowboys 31.

Patriots at Chiefs

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

MDS’s pick: Patriots 28, Chiefs 20.

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

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 20, Patriots 17.

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Week Three power rankings

Seahawks AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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