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Pierre Thomas is poised to return, after more than a month

Thomas Getty Images

As the Saints try to avoid falling three games under .500 and in turn losing three straight games at the Superdome for the first time since 2001, they’ll have some extra help in the backfield.

Running back Pierre Thomas appears as probable on the injury report with a rib and shoulder injury.  Thomas last played on October 19 at Detroit.

For the season, he has 133 rushing yards and 204 receiving yards in six games.

Also probable are running back Mark Ingram (shoulder) and running back Tavaris Cadet (hamstring).  Running back Khiry Robinson (forearm) remains out.

The Saints host the Ravens on Monday night, in the normal Monday night slot of 8:30 p.m. ET.  The Jets and Bill play in Detroit, starting at 7:00 p.m. ET.

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Charles Woodson wasn’t pleased with Sio Moore’s celebration

Woodson AP

Raiders linebacker Sio Moore is lucky his excessive third-down celebration didn’t prevent Oakland from winning for the first time in 17 tries.  If that had happened, Moore would have had a problem beyond the Raiders falling to 0-11.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Woodson said, via Michael Wagaman of ESPN.com.  “That was the first time I had ever seen somebody celebrate for a whole 40-second clock. That was ridiculous, and they know it. I told Sio he’s lucky we got the win because we really probably would’ve had to fight, and I would’ve seen exactly what kind of fighter he is.”

Moore has apologized for lingering so long in celebration that a timeout had to be taken, because he and Khalil Mack were well behind the Kansas City backfield as the Chiefs prepared to snap the ball.

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DeMarcus Ware added to injury report, listed as probable

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One of the Broncos’ top pass rushers is a late addition to the injury report, but it does not appear to be a big deal.

Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (illness) was placed on the report Saturday, the team said. However, he’s listed as probable for Sunday’s game vs. Miami.

According to Mike Klis of the Denver Post, Ware was sent home sick on Saturday.

The 32-yard-old Ware has started all 10 games for the Broncos this season, notching 28 tackles and nine sacks. He had played the previous eight seasons with the Cowboys, where he established himself as one of the top pass rushers of his generation.

The Broncos (7-3) are a half-game ahead of the Chiefs and one game in front of the Chargers in the AFC West.

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Colts cut return man Griff Whalen, sign RB Zurlon Tipton

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Colts return man Griff Whalen’s latest mistake was his last in Indianapolis.

Whalen was part of the odd botched kickoff return that easily could have been a safety on Sunday against the Patriots. The Colts signed veteran return man Josh Cribbs this week and have now cut Whalen today.

With Whalen released, the Colts have used the roster space to add running back Zurlon Tipton from the practice squad.

Tipton signed as an undrafted free agent this year after a very good college career at Central Michigan. He’ll add some depth at running back behind Trent Richardson and Dan Herron after the Colts lost Ahmad Bradshaw for the season this week.

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Falcons to honor member of Tuskegee Airmen on Sunday

Tuskegee Airmen Getty Images

The Falcons will honor a living member of the Tuskegee Airmen during Sunday’s game vs. Cleveland.

According to the club’s website, the Falcons will recognize 98-year-old Edward Johnson, a sergeant in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II.

Johnson served with the 332nd Fighter Group and 477th Bombardment Group, serving as an instrument-flying instructor, the Falcons said.

The Tuskegee Airmen were African-American members of the Air Corps and the U.S. Army Air Forces whose ranks included pilots who flew bombing missions in World War II.

According to the Falcons, Johnson is a long-time fan of the club who has never attended a game. He will be accompanied by one of his daughters.

The ceremony will occur sometime during the first half, the Falcons said.

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Harbaugh compares Vernon Davis to an olive jar

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Iconoclastic 49ers tight end Vernon Davis has been called many things.  He can now add olive jar to the list.

That one comes courtesy of coach Jim Harbaugh.

“I just feel like he’s ready to break out,” Harbaugh told reporters on Friday regarding Davis.  “I really do.  You use the old olive jar analogy.  The olives are packed in there real tight and you open up the lid and you can’t get any to come out.  You can even dump it upside down and it doesn’t come out.  But if you get that one to come out, then they just want to all come out and plop out.

“So, I think that’s the case and I think it’s going to happen soon.  Hopefully this weekend.  Get that one big one and then they start coming out.”

(We’re still talking about olives, right?)

Davis generated a mere 44 yards in Week One against the Cowboys.  But that still represents his regular-season high.  Over the last three games, Davis has 34 yards.  In all three games.  Combined.

That’s not the way to earn the contract he held out of offseason workouts to get.  Maybe the lesson going forward is that guys who want new contracts should show up for offseason workouts.

Especially when they also decide to become human corporations with a stock price that hinges on their performance.  From a high of $12.50 in April, shares in Vernon Davis, Inc. have plunged to $7.10.

It’s enough to trigger an aggressive order to sell! sell!

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Chiefs add Jason Avant, put A.J. Jenkins on injured reserve

Kansas City Chiefs v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

The Chiefs have made a change at wide receiver.

Jason Avant, the veteran receiver who was cut by the Panthers this week after complaining about the offensive play calling, has signed with the Chiefs. Avant previously played for Chiefs coach Andy Reid in Philadelphia, so he’ll arrive with an understanding of the offense and should be able to contribute immediately.

The 31-year-old Avant had 21 catches for 201 yards before the Panthers cut him. The last time he played for Reid, in 2012, he averaged four catches a game, and the Chiefs would love to see Avant settle into that kind of role in their stagnant passing game.

Kansas City has also announced that receiver A.J. Jenkins is done for the season with a shoulder injury. Jenkins, the former 49ers first-round pick, had nine catches for 93 yards this year.

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Federal judge strikes down latest New Jersey attempt at sports betting

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The powers-that-be in New Jersey continue to swing and miss when it comes to circumventing federal law that prevents the legalization of gambling there.

According to the Associated Press, Judge Michael Shipp has ruled that the latest effort by New Jersey to legalize sports betting at race tracks and casinos cannot proceed.

“We are going to continue pursuing every legal option available,” New Jersey Senate president Steve Sweeney told the AP.  “The economic impact that sports wagering can have on New Jersey is far too important to simply shrug our shoulders and move on.”

For now, the immediate legal option will be pursuing an appeal of the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which already has blocked efforts by New Jersey and Delaware to avoid the clear terms of a 1992 law that prevents the expansion of sports wagering.

The NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and NCAA filed suit to block New Jersey’s latest attempt.  Maybe New Jersey should simply legalize gambling on whether its efforts to legalize gambling will ever succeed.

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Roman Harper fined $8,268 for unnecessary roughness

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Panthers safety Roman Harper has drawn a $8,268 fine from the NFL for an unnecessary roughness penalty in Sunday’s loss to Atlanta, the league confirmed to PFT on Friday.

Harper was flagged for unnecessary roughness after tackling Falcons wide receiver Roddy White around the helmet in the third quarter. As White was falling, both of Harper’s hands contacted White’s helmet, and Harper punctuated the tackle with a little push to the head with his left hand. This started a brief confrontation between Harper, White (who struck the safety in the facemask) and Falcons tailback Antone Smith (who shoved Harper). Ultimately, Harper drew the 15-yard penalty.

A ninth-year pro, the 31-year-old Harper has started all 11 games for Carolina this season, recording 41 tackles and three interceptions.

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Report: Chiefs to sign Jason Avant

Pittsburgh Steelers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Chiefs went an 11th game without a touchdown catch by a wide receiver in Oakland on Thursday night and Friday has brought a reported change to the receiving corps.

It’s a familiar face to head coach Andy Reid.

Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Chiefs are signing Jason Avant, who worked out for the team on Friday. The Chiefs haven’t made an announcement, but Avant’s agent Doug Hendrickson congratulated his client on finding a new team.

Avant was released by the Panthers earlier this week after catching 21 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown in 11 games for the team. Avant was critical of the team’s offensive approach at the end of last week’s loss to the Falcons, though the Panthers explained the move as one designed to get more playing time for younger receivers.

It was Avant’s first year with the Panthers after spending the first eight years of his career with the Eagles. The first seven of those years came when Reid was in charge of the team and Avant had 259 catches for 3,199 yards and 10 touchdowns as a regular in the team’s offense.

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Tickets to be free for Jets-Bills in Detroit

Ford Field AP

Tickets for Monday night’s Jets-Bills game at Detroit’s Ford Field will be free, general-admission seats, the Lions announced Friday.

Bills season-ticket holders are being offered free tickets beginning today, as are Lions season-ticket owners. All other ticket giveaways will begin Saturday, according to the Lions.

Monday night’s game will start at 7 p.m. Eastern. The NFL moved the game to Detroit on Thursday because of heavy snow in the Buffalo metropolitan area.

The Lions also announced they would hold an in-game raffle to benefit the American Red Cross of Western and Central New York Disaster Relief Fund.

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Patrick Willis undergoes toe surgery, declares it successful

St. Louis Rams v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

Patrick Willis had surgery today.

And judging by the smile on his face, it was a successful one.

The 49ers linebacker had surgery on the toe problem that landed him on season-ending injured reserve.

“Surgery went well thank u all for the support and heartfelt wishes. Determined to get back on that field and be better than ever. Road back starts now! #alwaysbelieve,” he wrote on Instagram.

This has been an upside down year for the 49ers in many respects, and losing Willis will be tough.

Rookie replacement Chris Borland has played solidly, but things aren’t the same without their leader in the middle, as the 49ers scrap for a playoff berth.

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Lions trying to pull one of the bigger surprises of Belichick’s tenure

Denver Broncos v New England Patriots Getty Images

The Patriots are seven-point home favorites Sunday vs. Detroit. That may not sound like a lot of points — just a touchdown and an extra point. And the Lions, at 7-3 and tied with Green Bay atop the NFC North, are tougher-than-usual underdogs.

But with the Patriots, those seven points can seem like 70.

According to Spreadapedia.com, and as noted for “The Linemakers” of Sporting News, the Patriots have recorded 50 wins and just four losses as home regular-season favorites of seven points or more in Bill Belichick’s 15 seasons as head coach — a 92.6 percent success rate.

By contrast, since Belichick became New England’s coach in 2000, all other NFL clubs have won about four in every five games as seven-point regular-season home favorites (681-175-2, 79.5 percent). It should be noted two sizable favorites lost just last Sunday — Washington (-7) and New Orleans (-8.5).

The Patriots, meanwhile, are 2-0 as favorites of seven or more this season. Since 2000, the lone regular-season underdogs of seven-plus points to knock off New England were the 2006 Jets (+10.5), the 2008 Dolphins (+12.5), the 2011 Giants (+9.5) and 2012 Cardinals (+13.5).

In the playoffs, the Patriots are 9-2 straight-up as home favorites of at least seven points, with the only defeats to the 2010 Jets (+9.5) and 2012 Ravens (+8).

Interestingly enough, the Patriots aren’t great bets as big home favorites, covering in just 24-of-54 regular-season games and just 5-of-11 playoff contests when laying seven points or more since 2000.

Still, there’s a difference between wedging the door open with your foot and having said door slammed on said foot.

In short, in a league where big favorites generally take care of business, the Patriots almost always get the job done.

Which is why they’re the Patriots.

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Ricardo Lockette fined $10,000 after last week’s ejection

Ricardo Lockette AP

Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette joined running back Marshawn Lynch in returning a lost wallet earlier this week and now he’s joined Lynch as the recipient of a fine from the NFL.

PFT has confirmed with the league that Lockette has been fined $10,000 for the actions that led him to be ejected from last Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs. At the tail end of a long De’Anthony Thomas punt return, Lockette responded to a shove from Chiefs defensive back Kurt Coleman by throwing a punch that connected with Coleman’s helmet. Lockette was penalized and ejected from the game as a result.

While Lockette has no one to blame but himself for throwing the punch or getting tossed from the game, he can grumble a bit about the circumstances that led to the punch.

Upon replay, officials ruled that Thomas stepped out of bounds well before he was tackled on the Seattle 40-yard-line and there likely wouldn’t have been an altercation had they made the correct ruling on the field in the first place.

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Rob Gronkowski fined $8,268 for bouncer move

New England Patriots v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

Rob Gronkowski is going to have to work a lot of weekends as a bouncer to make up for this one.

The league office tells PFT that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was fined $8,268 for unnecessary roughness during last week’s game against the Colts.

The fine stemmed from his “blocking” Colts safety Sergio Brown out of bounds and into a cameraman late in their Sunday night win.

Gronkowski joked afterward he had thrown Brown “out of the club.”

Now he gets to make a donation instead of paying the cover charge.

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