Titans hire Mike Vrabel as head coach

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When the Titans fired Mike Mularkey as their head coach, some pointed to Josh McDaniels as their target because of his shared Patriots history with Tennessee General Manager Jon Robinson.

The new Titans head coach does have history in New England, but it isn’t McDaniels. The Titans announced on Saturday that they have hired Mike Vrabel to fill the opening.

“I am excited to get to work and that work starts now,” Vrabel said in a statement. “We want to build a culture around winning, competitiveness and toughness. Everything we do is going to be geared towards winning and being physical. We want to prepare our players so they know what to do, which will allow them to play fast and aggressive.”

Vrabel spent last season as the defensive coordinator of the Texans after being promoted from linebackers coach. He also coached at Ohio State after spending 14 years playing in the league. He was a member of the Patriots from 2001-2008, winning three Super Bowls while Robinson was working as a scout for the Patriots.

“I have always had a great deal of respect for Mike as a player and as a coach,” Robinson said. “I saw him up close as a player for the Patriots and saw how he prepared himself to be successful on a daily basis. He was the ultimate team-first player and he embodies that same mindset as a coach. He is intelligent, energetic, detailed and a leader whose deep passion for this game will resonate with our players. As a coach, I have seen him develop talent at both the college and NFL level, and put players in position for them to be successful. I am excited to get him in front of our team and watch us grow together as a team.”

The other reason some thought McDaniels, who is expected to take the Colts head coaching job, might be the pick in Tennessee was the need to further the development of quarterback Marcus Mariota. That will now likely fall to the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach that Vrabel picks to head things up on that side of the ball. That decision and Mariota’s progress will likely have a lot to do with how well Vrabel does in his first head coaching job.

Troops with access to USO Centers will be able to see Sunday’s games

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With the American Forces Network off the air due to the federal government shutdown, the easiest way for U.S. troops deployed overseas to watch the AFC and NFC title games has evaporated. But some will still be able to see it.

Via NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, troops can watch tomorrow’s games at USO Centers overseas through NFL GamePass for free.

That doesn’t cover troops without access to USO Centers. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the league has been working on finding ways for those members of the armed forces to watch the games.

That’s good, and hopefully that will be effective. Deep ties exist between football and the military, and it would be a shame for men and women who are thousands of miles from family and friends and who have been looking forward to six hours of semi-normalcy to not be able to watch the AFC and NFC Championship games.

Government shutdown takes NFL off American Forces Network

American Forces Network

Members of the American military serving overseas won’t be able to watch the NFC and AFC Championship Games on American Forces Network, thanks to the government shutdown.

American Forces Network, which had been scheduled to show both games, has confirmed that its programming is not available while the government is shut down.

Some members of the military will surely be able to find online streams of the game, but high-speed Internet access isn’t available everywhere. So many members of the military will be out of luck.

Stars and Stripes reported that American Forces Network has already received complaints from members of the military who were looking forward to watching Sunday’s games. There was also confusion as to why AFN had to go off the air, as it stayed on during the last government shutdown, in 2013.

If the government remains shut down in two weeks, we would hope that a solution could be found to allow American Forces Network to show the Super Bowl.

UPDATE 5:27 p.m. ET: Per the NFL, troops with access to USO Centers will be able to see the games through the NFL’s Game Pass feature. The league is working on finding ways for troops without access to USO Centers to see the games.

Reports about Le’Veon Bell’s behavior match those of Antonio Brown last year

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A year ago, word out of Pittsburgh was that soon-to-be free agent Antonio Brown‘s act was wearing thin with the Steelers. This year, reports are saying the same about soon-to-be free agent Le'Veon Bell.

This week’s report that the Steelers are unhappy about Bell’s tardiness comes less than two months after Bell is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency, if the Steelers don’t slap the franchise tag on him for the second consecutive year. It’s likely not a coincidence that there are sources in Pittsburgh putting out word that the player who wants to break the bank in free agency isn’t worth as much money as he’d like to think he is.

As PFT put it a year ago, “By creating the impression that they’re not happy with Brown, who remains one of the best receivers in the game, they may be able to lock him up for a lot less than he otherwise would want.”

The same could be said this year: Bell remains one of the best running backs in the game, but the Steelers would like the perception to exist that they’re not happy with him, perhaps so that he won’t get his expectations too high for how much he deserves to be paid.

In the end, the Steelers and Brown agreed to a new contract about a month after all the reports coming out of Pittsburgh that Brown’s act was wearing thin. So any reports about the Steelers growing frustrated with Bell’s behavior have to be viewed through that lens. The motivation to put out the word about Bell’s tardiness is surely related to a desire to get Bell back at an affordable price.

Bill Belichick calls Patrick Chung one of the best players in the NFL

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Most people listing the best players in the NFL would come up with a whole lot of names before they came to Patriots safety Patrick Chung. Bill Belichick would not.

Asked this week about Chung’s versatility and how his presence is helping the Patriots prepare for the Jaguars, Belichick was effusive with his praise.

“Chung, I’ve talked about Chung a lot,” Belichick said. “The guy is a really good football player. He’s one of the best players in the league, one of the best players on our team. He does a lot of things very well and has done them that way for a long time. We’re lucky we have him. He’s an outstanding player in all the things that he does. We put a lot on him, and he always comes through.”

Chung is in the second year of a three-year, $13.15 million contract and is under contract to the Patriots next season at a salary of just $2 million. If he’s one of the best players in the NFL, he may also be the best bargain in the NFL.

Eagles’ Mychal Kendricks, Vikings’ Eric Kendricks not speaking this week

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Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks and Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks are brothers, and close enough that they speak often during the season. But not this week.

Mychal said he and Eric talked a lot the week before the last regular-season meeting between their two teams. But on Sunday, when they’re meeting with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, Mychal said he hasn’t talked to Eric and has no plans to, maybe not even for a post-game handshake.

“None of that has gone down this week,” Mychal Kendricks said. “I don’t see it happening before the game or after the game or Saturday night. This is the biggest game of our lives to this date and nothing else matters.”

Mychal did say that the two will eventually talk, once the adrenaline has worn off. And he added that, “whoever loses, it’s going to be messed up.”

Tom Brady’s hand injury has bettors putting money on the Jaguars

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Most people seem to agree that the hand injury Tom Brady suffered in practice this week won’t keep him from playing well on Sunday. But not everyone in Las Vegas is so sure.

The betting action in Las Vegas has mostly been on the Jaguars since the Patriots announced that Brady was getting medical attention on his throwing hand. The point spread, which opened with the Patriots as 9-point favorites and moved to 9.5 points, is now either 7 or 7.5 points at six major Vegas sports books.

That doesn’t mean bettors have inside information that Brady, who’s listed as questionable, won’t be able to play. But it does indicate that bettors think Brady might be a little less accurate than usual on Sunday, or that Patriots coach Bill Belichick will play it safe with Brady and not have him pass a lot if the Patriots take an early lead.

So if you’re one of those people who is certain Brady’s hand will be fine and he’ll play as well as ever and beat the Jaguars easily on Sunday, now is the time to put some money on the Patriots.

Report: Tom Brady not taking snaps under center after thumb “bent back badly”

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Tom Brady didn’t offer an update on his injured thumb, wearing gloves during his media session Friday. Bill Belichick didn’t have anything to say either. Nor did any of the Patriots.

Not much information has leaked out of the building.

But Tom Curran of NBC Sports Boston has added details he’s hearing to what Mike Felger of WBZ in Boston reported earlier Friday. Felger said Brady needed four stitches. Curran indicates the injury is worse than just a bad cut.

“Brady’s right thumb bent back badly,” according to Curran, when a running back ran into the quarterback. The ball jammed into the webbing between Brady’s thumb and index finger, causing a cut.

Brady left practice Wednesday for an X-ray that showed no structural damage. He didn’t practice Thursday and returned Friday, but Brady did not take snaps under center, per Curran.

The Patriots are limiting Brady’s reps to keep him from aggravating the injury. Curran said Brady can throw, but adds, “I have no idea how hard, how far or how accurately.”

The team lists Brady as questionable on the injury report, and he could take a shot of Toradol to help with the pain from the injury.

Tom Brady listed as questionable for Sunday

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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady offered little about the condition of his right hand on Friday, but he was able to get in a limited practice after being listed as a non-participant in Thursday’s session.

That information came on the Patriots’ final injury report of the week and it also revealed that Brady is considered questionable to play against the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday. A report on Friday afternoon suggests that his chances of playing are pretty good.

Mike Felger of WBZ in Boston reported that Brady received four stitches after hitting a teammate’s helmet during Wednesday’s practice and that the injury should not have a great impact on his ability to play. Brady refused to say if he threw passes during Friday’s practice, but wide receiver Danny Amendola intimated that he did and that he was throwing well during his own press conference later in the day.

Right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, running back Rex Burkhead, defensive lineman Alan Branch and running back Mike Gillislee were also listed as questionable for New England, and all of them joined Brady as limited participants in Friday’s practice.

Fritz Pollard Alliance strongly disagrees with NFL clearing Raiders on Rooney Rule

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The Fritz Pollard Alliance, which has served as a watchdog for diversity in the NFL, has ripped the league for allowing the Raiders to get away with two Rooney Rule interviews that are widely regarded as shams.

“We strongly disagree with the NFL’s conclusion that the Raiders did not violate the Rooney Rule,” the Fritz Pollard Alliance said in a statement. “We believe the facts overwhelmingly point in the other direction. In his enthusiasm to hire Jon Gruden, Raiders’ owner Mark Davis failed to fulfill his obligation under the Rule and should step forward and acknowledge he violated the Rule.”

The Raiders say they fulfilled the Rooney Rule because they interviewed two minorities, their own tight ends coach Bobby Johnson and USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin, before naming Jon Gruden their head coach. The NFL bought that explanation, but the Fritz Pollard Alliance says those interviews were meaningless.

“The NFL broke ground when it created the Rooney Rule, but it made the wrong call in refusing to penalize Mark Davis in this instance,” the statement said. “Davis crossed the line, and we are disappointed in the League’s decision. The Rooney Rule and all of the League’s equal opportunity efforts need to be strengthened. We have called for meetings with the League to ensure that a process like this never happens again.”

The Fritz Pollard Alliance has usually been open to accepting NFL teams’ explanations about interviewing minority candidates, but in this case, Raiders owner Mark Davis admitted he had an agreement with Gruden before Jack Del Rio was fired, which means the job was never really open. That’s where the Fritz Pollard Alliance says the Raiders crossed the line and the NFL should have stepped in.

NFL says Raiders complied with Rooney Rule

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The Rooney Rule is no more. Or it might as well be. Time of death, 2:29 p.m. ET.

The NFL has put out word that the Raiders complied with the Rooney Rule before hiring coach Jon Gruden.

Even though they agreed to hire Gruden before they fired Jack Del Rio, which owner Mark Davis admitted to at Gruden’s press conference.

Even though the two minority candidates they interviewed after they agreed to a deal with their next coach were guys with no head coaching or coordinating experience in the league, who they didn’t even give assistant coaching jobs to. They dragged Southern Cal offensive coordinator Tee Martin and tight ends coach Bobby Johnson through interviews, and even interviewed Martin for a job on Gruden’s staff later.

But the league determined that’s just fine, after talking to Gruden, Davis and General Manager Reggie McKenzie. They will not be punished.

By doing nothing about a flagrant violation of the rule, the NFL has effectively set a precedent that no one will be punished for violating it, ever.

Maybe they’re hoping for a government shutdown today, or maybe they just don’t care. But under no circumstances can anyone interested in fairness in hiring practices believe that the right thing was done here today.

Tom Brady on hand: I’m not talking about it

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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had his twice-postponed press conference on Friday afternoon, but didn’t provide any clarity about the status of his injured right hand.

Brady said “I’m not talking about it” when asked about the nature of the injury and repeated the same answer when asked if he threw footballs during practice on Friday and when asked what happened on Wednesday. Brady was asked if he took part in practice after being listed as a non-participant on Thursday and said only that he was out there.

“We’ll see,” Brady said in response to a question about how confident he is that he will play in the AFC Championship Game against the Jaguars.

Brady was wearing the same gloves he wore on the practice field while at the podium and said he’d worn them before when asked if there was a specific reason why he was wearing them indoors. There was a bit of general discussion about the Jaguars defense mixed in, but the main focus of Brady’s questions was about his hand and the answers shed no new light on what’s turned into the biggest story of the week in New England.

Andrew Sendejo still in concussion protocol, but Vikings are optimistic

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Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo is still not cleared from the NFL’s concussion protocol, but the team is optimistic that he will be cleared in time to play on Sunday in Philadelphia.

Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said today that Sendejo has made progress and has a good chance of getting cleared. He will be examined again today.

Sendejo showed his importance to the Vikings with his absence after suffering the concussion against the Saints: At the time he suffered his concussion on Sunday, the Vikings were leading the Saints 17-0 with just over a minute left in the third quarter. In the next 13 minutes the Saints’ offense scored three touchdowns to take the lead.

The Vikings have complained that the block from Saints receiver Michael Thomas that gave Sendejo a concussion was a cheap shot.

Adam Thielen is questionable for Sunday

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The Vikings have an unexpected source of injury anxiety as they enter the NFC title game against the Eagles.

Coach Mike Zimmer told reporters on Friday that receiver Adam Thielen is questionable, with a lower back injury.

Thielen didn’t practice on Wednesday, and he was limited in practice on Friday.

The questionable category became in 2016 a broad one, encompassing essentially anything less than a 100-percent chance of playing, all the way down to 50-50. The next question will be whether Thielen travels to Philadelphia with his teammates.

He has said he’ll be fine, and there’s a chance that the Vikings are simply engaged in a little gamesmanship. If, for some reason, Thielen can’t play, lesser-used pass-catchers like Laquon Treadwell and Michael Floyd would become more important to the offense. Also, underrated slot receiver Jarius Wright would take on greater significance.

Tashaun Gipson questionable for Sunday

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The Jaguars don’t have a long injury report for Sunday’s game against the Patriots, but it does feature one of their starting safeties.

Tashaun Gipson injured his foot during last weekend’s 45-42 win over the Steelers and said early in the week that he expects to be in the lineup against the Patriots. Gipson did not practice on either Wednesday or Thursday, making that prediction a cloudy one at best.

The final injury report of the week doesn’t provide any certainty about Gipson’s outlook for Sunday. Gipson has been listed as questionable, although those looking for positive signs about his chances of playing will note that Gipson was on the field during the team’s final practice on Friday.

Gipson has not missed a game since joining the Jaguars in 2016. He had five tackles against the Bills in the Wild Card round and one against the Steelers before leaving the game.