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Supreme Court to hear case with relevance to Washington trademark dispute

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As the ultimate power of the executive branch will soon be transferred from a President who believes the Washington team should change its name to a President-Elect who believes it shouldn’t, the ultimate power of the judicial branch will hear arguments in a case that will impact the lingering legal dispute regarding whether the team should lose the federal protections applicable to their name.

Via the Associated Press, the balance between free speech and trademark rights will be determined via an Asian-American band whose chosen name arises from a term that is offensive to Asian-Americans. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office refused to register the name in 2011, sparking the legal fight that lands in the highest court on the land on Wednesday.

The lingering dispute regarding the Washington name has been placed on hold pending the outcome of the litigation that will be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court. The team had tried to have its case merged with the case that will be heard Wednesday.

Instead, the outcome of Wednesday’s case will become precedent that will apply to Washington’s case.

A loss won’t mean that the team’s name must change. Instead, it will eliminate the federal protections applicable to the name, allowing anyone to sell merchandise bearing the label without permission from the team.

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Who should the Patriots be rooting for?

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 14: A New England Patriots fan holds a sign during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game between the New England Patriots and the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on January 14, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

The question of whether the Falcons should be rooting for a home game against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers or a road trip to Dallas to face the Cowboys and their rookie quarterback will surely tilt in one direction — but not as sharply as, in the abstract, it should.

In the AFC, the Patriots have a much closer question to resolve. Now that they have dispensed with the Texans, who should the Patriots want to see next Sunday night at home?

The issue will be resolved tonight in Kansas City. Until then, chime in with the preferred choice of the Patriots. Steelers or Chiefs for a berth in Super Bowl LI.

Scott Zolak of the Patriots Radio Network cast a vote earlier this week on PFT Live for the Chiefs, given that the Steelers have such a dynamic offense. That said, the Chiefs may be more adept at applying pressure to Tom Brady, which traditionally is one of the key ingredients to beating the Patriots in the postseason.

They’ll be favored against either opponent. But they surely have a preference. What’s yours?

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Who should Falcons be rooting for today?

GREEN BAY, WI - OCTOBER 16: Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys looks to pass against the Green Bay Packers during the third quarter at Lambeau Field on October 16, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Dallas Cowboys defeated the Green Bay Packers 30-16.  (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

Earlier this week, we presented the hypothetical question of whether the Seahawks or the Falcons should prefer to face the Packers at home or the Cowboys on the road in the NFC title game. Now that we know which of those two teams will be playing next Sunday, let’s pose the question again.

Falcons fans, do you want to play the Packers at the Georgia Dome or the Cowboys in Dallas?

The obvious answer typically would be to always want to play at home. But if the Packers, who went toe to toe with the Falcons in Atlanta not long before starting a seven-game winning streak and who beat the Falcons 48-21 in their own building during the divisional round six years ago, manage to win on Sunday in Dallas, Aaron Rodgers and company become an even more dangerous opponent.

In contrast, the Cowboys have the pressure of being the No. 1 seed, along with a rookie quarterback who may not yet fully appreciate the stakes of postseason pro football. If the Cowboys win in unimpressive fashion on Sunday over Green Bay, the Cowboys could be more vulnerable next week.

If the Packers win by two points or 20 points or anywhere in between, they’ll carry a ton of momentum into a one-win-for-the-Super-Bowl scenario that will surely make plenty of people believe the Packers will run their current winning streak to nine.

But don’t take my word for it. Cast your own vote as to which team the Falcons should be rooting for, state your case in the comments, and get ready for what should be a great pair of games on Sunday, with the Packers-Cowboys contest followed by Steelers-Chiefs on NBC.

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Mike Zimmer: “We don’t know when Teddy will be back”

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 1: Fans put up signs for Teddy Bridgewater #5 of the Minnesota Vikings during the second quarter of the preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams on September 1, 2016 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer would prefer to be on TV today in his usual coaching gear. Instead, he was a guest on ESPN.

During his segment with Hannah Storm, Zimmer offered an update regarding the status of starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. It wasn’t specific, but it was ominous.

“We don’t know when Teddy will be back,” Zimmer said.

Bridgewater suffered a serious knee injury during practice in late August, instantly ending his season and prompting a trade with the Eagles for quarterback Sam Bradford. While there have been few specific reports about Bridgewater’s condition, the signs continue to point to the very real possibility that he won’t be ready for the 2017 season opener.

As the second year of a two-year contract approaches, the Vikings will owe Bradford $4 million in early March and $13 million in base salary. Given that Bridgewater is entering the fourth year of a slotted, wage-scale, last-pick-in-round-one contract, it’s extremely likely that the Vikings will keep Bradford, pay him $17 million this year, and prepare as if he’ll be the starter.

Whether Bradford succeeded in his first year with the Vikings is a matter of fair debate. He was 7-8 in 15 starts, but he set a single-season record for completion percentage. But many of those throws were short passes aimed at supplementing a crappy running game. But Bradford showed incredible durability, despite having a scarecrow-with-pads physique and a leaky offensive line.

If the Vikings can fix the offensive line and the running game, maybe the Vikings could spring back to the playoffs behind Bradford. Given that they managed an 8-8 record despite more struggles and adversities than some teams face in a decade, a year without major injuries or offensive coordinators resigning abruptly or the head coach not having three eye surgeries could end much, much better.

The quarterback position will continue to be the key. If Bridgewater isn’t ready, then Bradford must stay healthy again. And the Vikings will need to have another veteran quarterback ready to go in the event that next season’s rash of hardships includes an injury to the quarterback for whom they gave up a first-round and fourth-round pick in this year’s draft.

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Report: Brad Childress, Greg Olson offensive coordinator candidates in Buffalo

MINNEAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 21:  Head coach Brad Childress of the Minnesota Vikings on the sidelines against the Green Bay Packers at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on November 21, 2010 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) Getty Images

Bills coach Sean McDermott found his defensive coordinator in Leslie Frazier and one of Frazier’s former bosses is reportedly at the top of the list of offensive coordinator candidates in Buffalo.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the team is interested in Chiefs co-offensive coordinator Brad Childress. Frazier was defensive coordinator when Childress was the head coach of the Vikings and moved into the top spot after Childress was fired in 2010.

Childress and McDermott were both on Andy Reid’s coaching staff with the Eagles more than a decade ago, so there are further connections to the Bills staff. Childress joined Matt Nagy as offensive coordinators in Kansas City this year after serving as their spread game analyst before Doug Pederson’s departure.

Any attempt to interview and hire Childress will obviously be impacted by the Chiefs’ result against the Steelers on Sunday night. He’s not the only reported candidate as Rapoport notes that the team is also interested in Greg Olson, who was dismissed by the Jaguars during the regular season and has served as an offensive coordinator for five teams over the course of his career.

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Bills hire Mike Waufle as defensive line coach

OAKLAND, CA - CIRCA 2011: In this handout image provided by the NFL, Mike Waufle of the Oakland Raiders poses for his NFL headshot circa 2011 in Oakland, California. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bills have added another experienced piece to Sean McDermott’s coaching staff.

The team announced on Saturday that they have hired Mike Waufle to coach the defensive line. He joins linebackers coach Bob Babich on the staff under defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

Waufle spent the last five seasons coaching with the Rams, who had a strong defensive line against both the run and the pass over that period. Waufle has also had two stints with the Raiders and a six-year run with the Giants since moving into the professional ranks in 1998.

Waufle has experience in 4-3 defenses, which is where the Bills appear to be headed after hiring McDermott and Frazier. However the Bills line up, a big part of Waufle’s job will be trying to help defensive tackle Marcell Dareus return to disruptive form up front.

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Dre Kirkpatrick isn’t impressed with Rams

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 24: Dre Kirkpatrick #27 of the Cincinnati Bengals waves at the crowd after defending a pass against the Houston Texans in the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium on December 24, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) Getty Images

It’s not clear how the Rams will react to the youngest coach in modern NFL history. It is clear how at least one potential free agent from another team is reacting.

Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick will, absent a new contract in Cincinnati, be available to sign with any team he wants in March. A Twitter user made a plea for Kirkpatrick to come to the Rams.

Kirkpatrick replied with three words: “I wanna win.”

Of course, desire to win often takes a back seat to financial considerations. If the Rams were to offer Kirkpatrick more money than anyone else, Kirkpatrick may quickly persuade himself that the new culture in L.A. will lead to victories.

The Rams will otherwise have plenty of chances to persuade everyone that their new culture will lead to victories, once the next regular season begins in less than eight months.

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Sunday morning one-liners

SAN DIEGO, CA - JANUARY 01:  Alex Smith #11 of the Kansas City Chiefs scrambles from the pocket during the second half of a game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on January 1, 2017 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) Getty Images

Breaking down where the Bills defense fell short under Rex Ryan.

A final report card for the Dolphins.

RB Dion Lewis did a little of everything for the Patriots on Saturday night.

Which rookie did the most for the Jets in 2016?

The Ravens are working on their offseason plans this weekend.

Discussing some draft possibilities for the Bengals.

Will the Browns explore the trade market for a quarterback?

Steelers DT Javon Hargrave hopes his rookie season extends beyond Sunday night.

WR Will Fuller dropped a touchdown in the Texans’ loss to the Patriots.

Making the case that the Colts have turned into a circus under owner Jim Irsay.

Tom Coughlin may spend more time scouting draft prospects at Jaguars headquarters than going out on the road.

General Manager Jon Robinson’s moves worked well in his first year with the Titans.

The Broncos coaching staff is taking shape.

Chiefs QB Alex Smith knows the playoffs will define his season.

The Raiders’ push to move to Las Vegas continues to proceed.

Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune thinks the Chargers could have acted more boldly if they had any interest in staying in San Diego.

Cowboys K Dan Bailey has worn the same cleats since 2011 and hopes to retire them after winning the Super Bowl in Houston.

TE Larry Donnell hopes to remain with the Giants.

Eagles QB Carson Wentz is looking forward to some time off.

A few potential free agents for the Redskins to watch in the playoffs.

Devin Hester said he’s retiring after an NFL career that included many highlights for the Bears.

How did the Lions’ offensive line fare over the course of the season?

The Packers will need several players to step up on Sunday afternoon.

Analyzing the Vikings’ options on the defensive line.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank was in a dancing mood after Saturday’s win.

Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks started working with Ron Rivera before Rivera became the Panthers’ head coach.

A call for the Saints be proactive in finding a quarterback to follow Drew Brees.

Ten players for the Buccaneers to check out at the East-West Shrine Game.

Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald isn’t rushing his decision on playing in 2017.

The Rams and everyone else will find out if Los Angeles can support two teams.

Things haven’t been too rosy between the 49ers and Santa Clara.

S Earl Thomas‘ absence was notable for the Seahawks.

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Earl Thomas vents about Tom Brady’s route to the Super Bowl

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 14:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots looks on in the first half against the Houston Texans during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 14, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

On the same day that the Seahawks exited the playoffs by losing in Atlanta, the Patriots advanced to their sixth straight AFC title game.

Seahawks safety Earl Thomas noticed it, and he doesn’t like it. The Pro Bowler who broke his leg during a Sunday night win over the Panthers in early December took to Twitter to vent about the fact that the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady have dominated thanks to their assignment to a division that has struggled to compete with New England.

While the NFC West isn’t what it recently was, the Seahawks continue to be a very good team. They beat the Patriots in New England during the regular season, and seeing them face Brady twice per year would be exciting and compelling.

And it’s not entirely impossible. If/when the Patriots decide to move on from Brady before Brady decides to move on from football, the 49ers surely would be one of the few teams with which he’d want to end his career. Especially if/when Josh McDaniels is the coach in San Francisco.

Given the manner in which Brady is playing, it’s highly unlikely the Patriots will be nudging Brady out the door any time soon. Which means that, if McDaniels gets the job in San Francisco, Thomas may have to settle for seeing Jimmy Garoppolo in the division for the next several years, at a minimum.

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Pete Carroll: We’re right in the middle of our championship window

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 14: Head coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks looks on during the game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on January 14, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

When the Seahawks traveled to Atlanta for a divisional playoff game after the 2012 season, their rookie quarterback and emerging defense couldn’t pull off a victory.

The Falcons won 30-28, but the Seahawks stamped themselves as a team on the rise and they confirmed that by going to the next two Super Bowls. They lost in the divisional round last year, however, and lost in Atlanta again on Saturday with a team missing some of the stars from previous years.

Does that mean that the window has closed for the iteration of the Seahawks that won a Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium three years ago? Coach Pete Carroll says no.

“We’re right in the middle of it,” Carroll said, via the Seattle Times. “It ain’t over. We’re right in the middle of it. Everybody in the locker room knows that and they felt that. It didn’t happen this time, not as far as we wanted. We did some good stuff now — won a division and all that kind of thing. But we are still in the process — that’s what it feels like — we are in the middle of it. Not at the end of anything.”

Kicker Steven Hauschka is the most prominent free agent on the roster, so the Seahawks will be able to bring back all their key offensive and defensive players next year. Some tweaks may have to be made in order to fix an offensive line that broke down far too often this season, but the majority of the band should be back together for another run.

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NFL’s investigation into Ezekiel Elliott won’t wrap up any time soon

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 24:   Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys rushes the ball during the fourth quarter against the Washington Redskins at AT&T Stadium on November 24, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL has spent months investigating an allegation by an ex-girlfriend of Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott that he committed domestic violence in their relationship, and that investigation isn’t going to end any time soon.

Elliott is in the process of responding to inquiries from the NFL and the investigation won’t be over by the Super Bowl, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports.

It’s convenient timing for the NFL that the investigation won’t end before the Super Bowl, as the league would obviously prefer to avoid any headlines that include both the name of one of the league’s most prominent players and the words “domestic violence” during the postseason.

Prosecutors decline to file legal charges against Elliott after police investigated the woman’s allegations. The NFL’s policies allow players to be disciplined regardless of whether they are criminally charged.

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Vince Wilfork: I think I’ve played my last game

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 14: Vince Wilfork #75 of the Houston Texans looks on after their 34-16 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 14, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork had many of the finest moments of his career on the field at Gillette Stadium and it looks like he had his final ones on the field as well.

Wilfork left Saturday night’s loss before the final kneeldown by Tom Brady as coach Bill O’Brien gave the Patriots fans a chance to salute Wilfork one more time. Wilfork said before the playoffs started that he would be contemplating retirement after the season and Saturday night found him leaning in the direction of calling it a day.

“No emotions and I will take my time and think about it. I think I have played my last NFL football game,” Wilfork said. “I will take the time and do my due diligence and sit back see if I really want to retire. We will see. I don’t know how long that will take. I will see, it doesn’t change the fact that I enjoyed every bit of my career; I enjoyed 11 great years in New England and enjoyed two great years in Texas with unbelievable teammates. I couldn’t have any better teammates from both organizations and you talk about the organizations themselves and you talk about top of the class. These are two owners that anyone would love to play for.”

Wilfork won two Super Bowls in New England to go with the national title he won while he was at Miami, made the All-Pro team once and went to five Pro Bowls in recognition of his work on the defensive line.

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Falcons have “no concern” over Julio Jones’ foot

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 14:   Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons reacts against the Seattle Seahawks at the Georgia Dome on January 14, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Falcons are moving on to the NFC Championship Game and they don’t expect to be sweating about whether wide receiver Julio Jones is going to be in the lineup.

Jones left before Saturday’s 36-20 win over the Seahawks was complete due to an aggravation of the foot/toe injury that Jones has been dealing with in recent weeks. After the game, coach Dan Quinn said Jones would have remained in the game if the score had been closer and that he will be good to go against either the Packers or Cowboys next weekend.

“No concern at the moment,” Quinn said, via the team’s website. “It will be sore, but he’s certainly someone that’s able to battle through it, so I anticipate him being able to rock next week.”

Jones had six catches for 67 yards and a touchdown in the first half of Saturday’s game to help the Falcons get out to the big lead they’d maintain through the final whistle.

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Devin Hester plans to retire

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 14: Devin Hester #17 of the Seattle Seahawks reacts to a play during the game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on January 14, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

The best return man in NFL history is planning to call it a career.

Devin Hester said after the Seahawks’ loss to the Falcons on Saturday that it was probably his last game.

“I told my wife this is pretty much my last year,” Hester told reporters after the game. “I was hoping for a run to the Super Bowl. The only thing that I left out of this game is walking away without getting a ring. It’s tough.”

Hester played a great game in his swan song. He returned five kickoffs for 194 yards and also had an 80-yard punt return called back by a penalty.

No player has ever been selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame solely as a return man, but Hester has a case for it: He owns the NFL record for combined kick return touchdowns, with 20, the NFL record for punt return touchdowns, with 14, and the NFL record for return touchdowns in a season, with six.

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Bill O’Brien says he’ll be back

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 14:  Bill O'Brien head coach of the Houston Texans looks on in the first half against the New England Patriots during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 14, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Texans coach Bill O’Brien has opted for something more definitive and less philosophical regarding his future with the team.

“I’ll be back next season, I’ll be the Texans head coach,” O’Brien told reporters after Saturday’s 34-16 loss to the Patriots. “I’ll be back next season, like I said, I have a five-year contract. This was year three, and like I’ve also said, I need to do a better job. You know, I think we have a good football team. And overall, we need to do a better job, especially on offense. So, I am going to work hard to try to get that improved this offseason.

O’Brien then was asked about the fact that stories of his potential departure have lingered even after owner Bob McNair said O’Brien wouldn’t be fired.

“I don’t know. I really am just tired of answering it. You know, you can’t even have a sense of humor about it,” O’Brien said, likely in reference to his wife’s question regarding where they’ll be living next year. “You have a sense of humor about it, people run with that. I’m going to be the head coach of the Houston Texans. I’m looking forward to working this offseason to improve the team. I really enjoy coaching this team. I have a lot of great feelings about the guys that I coach in that locker room. You know, the Cushings and the Duane Browns, all those guys. Lamar Miller, C.J. Fiedorowicz, [Ryan] Griffin. You know, all the guys on defense, Kareem [Jackson] and Jonathan Joseph. Whitney [Mercilus], JD [Jadeveon Clowney], I mean, I could name the whole roster. And I’m looking forward to coming back and coaching those guys.”

And so that’s the end of it. Unless it isn’t. If it isn’t, it’s a change that will happen soon.

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