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Pierre Thomas making progress, but still not fully practicing

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The good news for the Saints is that running back Pierre Thomas has made some progress after missing last week’s game with a chest injury. The bad news is it may not be enough progress for Thomas to be back on the field this weekend against the Seahawks.

Thomas returned to the practice field on Thursday, and although he was limited, that represents a step forward for Thomas: He hadn’t practiced at all since suffering a chest injury in Week 17.

The Saints would love to have Thomas back on Saturday. Thomas was the Saints’ leading rusher with 549 yards during the regular season, and he was second on the team with 77 catches.

Other than Thomas, the Saints’ 53-man roster is relatively healthy. Everyone practiced, and defensive end Akiem Hicks (ankle) was the only player other than Thomas who was limited. Only three other players were listed on the Saints’ injury report at all: Offensive tackle Terron Armstead (knee), cornerback Keenan Lewis (head/neck) and guard Jahri Evans (ankle) were all full participants in practice.

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Broncos are getting healthy for playoff run

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The Broncos have dealt with their fair share of injuries.  As their postseason opener approaches, however, most of their injured players not on injured reserve look to be ready to go.

Defensive lineman Derek Wolfe, who hasn’t played since November 24 due to an illness, remains out of practice.  All other injured players fully participated in practice on Wednesday and Thursday.

The injured-but-practicing are cornerback Champ Bailey (shoulder), receiver Wes Welker (concussion), quarterback Peyton Manning (ankle), tight end Joel Dreessen (knee), safety Duke Ihenacho (concussion), tackle Winston Justice (finger), guard Chris Kuper (ankle), center Steve Vallos (concussion), and cornerback Kayvon Webster (thumb).

The Broncos host the Chargers on Sunday, one month to the day after losing to San Diego at home.

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Percy Harvin to have no limitations after nearly landing on injured reserve

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Percy Harvin’s season with the Seattle Seahawks nearly ended two weeks ago.

Following Seattle’s 27-9 victory over the St. Louis Rams in the regular season finale, it was finally time for judgment day on Harvin’s injured hip.

Head coach Pete Carroll met with Harvin that Monday with a roster move to injured reserve fully on the table for Seattle’s prize acquisition of the 2013 offseason.

Harvin had appeared in just one game for Seattle in Week 11 against the Minnesota Vikings. He caught one pass for 17 yards and returned his lone kickoff return opportunity 58 yards. It was a small glimpse of the player Seattle traded for back in March. But his surgically repaired hip flared up again following the game and had kept Harvin off the field for the remainder of the regular season.

But Harvin pleaded for a chance to show he was ready to get back on the field.

“Coach came to me last Monday with the whole IR thing. I just looked at him and said ‘coach, I’m ready to play ball,'” Harvin said. “We talked to the doctors, just kept rehabbing. I could hit the practice field and it felt pretty good.”

Carroll added “I had to look him in the eye two weeks ago on Monday and say ‘this is the time, this is it. We have to make the call’ and he said ‘not now, let me have a shot’, and he was ready to go. With great work from the trainers and a very successful surgery, he’s back and ready to go.

Harvin returned to practice that Thursday during Seattle’s bye week and continued to practice every day this week. He’s now ready to go with no limitations against the New Orleans Saints on Saturday.

Harvin gave credit to his teammates for keeping his spirit high while he struggled to keep grinding away at a rehab process that wasn’t showing improvement.

“Came a time where I thought about maybe just kind of shutting it down,” Harvin said. “But the guys just kept giving it to me, kept giving me that positive energy I needed and it all started turning around for me. So I decided that I was going to give it everything I have and go from there.”

Harvin said he’s “absolutely” going to be available to return kickoffs for Seattle and is expected to be available for full duty on offense.

“We’re excited about him going and excited for him. It’s been a long, long haul for a guy that’s such a great competitor and that means so much to, and for him to have the opportunity to join us now is really exciting I know for him, and for us too,” Carroll said.

Considering Harvin was just hours away from injured reserve, it’s quite a boost for a Seattle offense that sputtered at times over the last month of the season.

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Saints add a safety ahead of trip to Seattle

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The Saints fear they’ve lost linebacker Parys Haralson for the season because of a torn pectoral and cornerback Keenan Lewis was knocked out of Saturday’s victory over the Eagles with a concussion, a pair of injuries that have led the team to add a defensive body before they travel to Seattle this weekend.

Safety Jordan Pugh tweeted that he signed with the Saints and the Baton Rouge Advocate confirmed the signing with Pugh’s agent. There’s been no official announcement or corresponding roster move, although Haralson will likely be placed on injured reserve if his injury is what the Saints expect.

Pugh played four games with the Redskins this season, but was released in late October. Pugh recorded one tackle and one interception of Peyton Manning before getting his walking papers.

He played 13 regular season games for Washington in 2012 and also saw action in their playoff loss to the Seahawks, which means this weekend’s game will be his second postseason date with Seattle in as many years.

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Darrius Heyward-Bey expected to miss a week or so

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The Colts signed veteran wide receiver Deion Branch on Monday, a move that caught plenty of attention with a game against the Patriots on the horizon.

There was more to the decision than just getting good dinner recommendations around Gillette Stadium from a former Super Bowl MVP who had his best days with your next opponent. Coach Chuck Pagano said Monday, via Mike Wells of, that wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey is expected to miss a week or so because of a hamstring injury suffered against the Chiefs.

Heyward-Bey has seen his playing time on offense sharply reduced in recent weeks as the Colts have looked to Da’Rick Rogers, Griff Whalen and LaVon Brazill alongside T.Y. Hilton. He’s become a regular member of their special teams unit as a result and his absence was obviously concerning enough to the Colts that they added both Branch and Josh Lenz to the roster.

Pagano confirmed as much when he said the team felt a need for legs at receiver with Heyward-Bey out and added that he thinks Branch will have an “easy transition” to the Colts offense.

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Patriots put Brandon Spikes on injured reserve

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The Patriots defense has taken so many hits this season, it’s hard to keep track.

The latest is the loss of linebacker Brandon Spikes, who the team announced had been placed on season-ending injured reserve today with a knee injury.

Spikes has played through knee problems all year, and there was no indication there was any traumatic event that led to the roster move.

For a team that lost stars such as Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo (among others), it’s another hit.

Maybe in honor of the Colts signing longtime Patriots receiver Deion Branch today, the secret plan is to sign Gary Brackett.

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Colts sign Deion Branch, lose Greg Toler and Fili Moala

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Ten years after Deion Branch won a Super Bowl MVP award with the Patriots, he’s going to try to keep the Patriots from this year’s Super Bowl.

Branch signed with the Colts today, five days before Indianapolis plays a divisional playoff game at New England. The Colts worked Branch out last month, and although they didn’t sign him at the time, they must have liked what they saw.

The 34-year-old Branch is one of two receivers added to the Colts’ active roster today. The other is Josh Lenz, who was previously on the team’s practice squad.

The bad news for the Colts is that they had two available spots on the active roster because they lost two players from their defense: Indianapolis placed defensive end Fili Moala and cornerback Greg Toler on injured reserve.

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Colts enter playoffs as healthy as you can be in January

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Now that the Colts finally sold out their home playoff game against the Chiefs, television viewers across Indiana will get to see what appears to be a fully stocked roster.

The Colts listed just two players as questionable on the injury report heading into tomorrow’s Wild Card game, nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin (knee) and defensive end Fili Moala (knee).

Franklin has practiced fully the last two days, while Moala has been held out of practice all week.

Everyone else on the report is listed as probable, having practiced fully the last two days.

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Eric Fisher out, Tamba Hali questionable for Chiefs

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The Chiefs will kick off this year’s postseason tournament with a game against the Colts on Saturday afternoon and they’ll be doing it without the first overall pick of the 2013 draft.

The team announced that right tackle Eric Fisher has been ruled out of the game because of groin and shoulder injuries. Donald Stephenson, who has been filling in for Branden Albert at left tackle for the last few weeks, will move over to the right side with Albert expected back in the lineup.

Fisher struggled at times during his rookie season and Stephenson has been solid, so the Chiefs shouldn’t experience too much disruption from the loss. Should Albert’s knee issue flare up or some other injury strike, they will be left thin at tackle.

Linebacker Tamba Hali, who has not practiced this week, is questionable to play because of a knee injury. Linebacker Justin Houston is on track to return from an elbow injury, which would help Kansas City make up for Hali’s absence if he does wind up missing the game.

In a perfect world, though, they’d have both players pressuring Andrew Luck off the edges. We’ll find out on Saturday whether things broke their way.

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Terence Newman, Anthony Collins return to practice

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The Bengals were missing three players at practice on Thursday, but Friday finds a full house at Cincinnati’s final practice of the week.

Geoff Hobson of the team’s website reports that cornerback Terence Newman and tackle Anthony Collins are “buckled up” for practice after missing both of the team’s previous practices this week. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who was sidelined by an illness on Thursday, is also back in action for the Bengals.

Newman has missed the last three games because of a knee injury, leaving the Bengals without both their starting corners with Leon Hall already on injured reserve. Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones have started those games and all three corners will likely see a lot of action against the Chargers if they’re in the lineup.

Collins, who’s dealing with an ankle injury, has been starting at left tackle since Andrew Whitworth moved to left guard in the wake of Clint Boling’s trip to injured reserve. He’s started seven games overall this season and has performed well when called upon.

The Bengals won’t get Hall or defensive tackle Geno Atkins back, but it looks like they have a good chance at having all the current members of their 53-man roster available as they try to win a playoff game for the first time in 23 years.

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Only one Eagle misses Thursday practice

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It must be the smoothies.

Whatever the precise reason, Eagles coach Chip Kelly approaches his first postseason game with a largely healthy roster.  It’s a trend that has helped Philly put most of its best players on the field in key late-season games.

The only player absent from practice on Thursday was guard Julian Vandervelde, who has a back injury.

Returning to practice for Thursday’s session was safety Earl Wolff, who has missed five of the last six games with a knee injury.  Wolff fully participated in practice.

Also injured but fully participating in practice were safety Colt Anderson (knee), receiver Jason Avant (shoulder), cornerback Brandon Boykin (hip), and linebacker Mychal Kendricks (knee).

The Eagles host the Saints on Saturday night.  It’s the only wild-card game that easily sold out.

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Tyler Eifert returns to practice

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Playing without tight ends Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham didn’t stop the Bengals from beating the Ravens in Week 17, but they’d certainly prefer to have both of them in the lineup when the Chargers come calling this weekend.

Their chances of having that happen are looking good. Gresham’s hamstring has improved enough for him to get in a limited practice on Wednesday and Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Eifert joined Gresham and the rest of the Bengals on the practice field on Thursday. Eifert has been out since suffering a stinger in Week 16, but his return to practice is a good sign that his gameday absence will also come to an end.

Wide receiver A.J. Green is also back at practice Thursday. Green sat out Wednesday’s session with what was listed as a knee injury, although it was likely as much about giving some extra rest to Green as it was about a specific injury concern.

Per Reedy, the only two Bengals not spotted at the portion of practice open to the media were cornerback Terence Newman and tackle Anthony Collins. Newman has missed several games with a knee injury while Collins is battling ankle woes.

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Austin Collie returns to Patriots

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There are some injury questions for the Patriots at wide receiver as they prepare for the start of their playoff run and that’s led them to return to a familiar face for the third time this season.

Field Yates of reports that Austin Collie is back with the team and that he is going to take part in practice on Thursday. Collie played seven games with the Patriots during the regular season, catching six passes for 63 yards.

Josh Boyce has an ankle injury and did not play in either of the team’s final two regular season contests. Aaron Dobson re-injured his foot against the Bills in Week 17 and neither rookie wideout has practiced with the team this week. Left guard Logan Mankins and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard are also out of practice.

There’s been no corresponding roster move announced to make room for Collie on the roster. One of the injured players could be headed to injured reserve or the Patriots could make a different move with safety Devin McCourty likely to return to the lineup next weekend.

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Bengals have 10,000 tickets to sell for Sunday

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The Colts aren’t the only wild-card team with worries of a weekend blackout.  The Bengals currently have even more tickets to sell.

According to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, a “brisk” Monday of transactions still left the Bengals 10,000 seats short of a sellout for Sunday’s playoff game against the Chargers.

“We had a good day but it is just going to have to continue through the night and hopefully continue to have a strong response over the next couple days,” Director of Sales and Public Affairs Jeff Berding told Reedy.  “It can’t let up.  We have to continue to have the type of day we had today every day this week.”

Mayor John Cranley has joined the effort to fill Paul Brown Stadium, where the Bengals are 8-0 this season.

“It’s going to be a great week for Cincinnati, so I would ask all of you to help me make it a great city by doing what I did,” Cranley said.  “I personally bought two tickets today and I’m asking all of you to come down and show your pride for the Bengals, show your pride for downtown, show your pride for the wonderful team that Marvin Lewis has put together.”

Despite the unbeaten mark at home, the Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since January 1991.  Nine years earlier, the Bengals qualified for their first Super Bowl by beating the Chargers under frigid conditions in Cincinnati.

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Colts are 7,000 tickets short of a sellout for Saturday

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At one point, it appeared that the Broncos and Peyton Manning had a chance of returning to Indy for the wild-card round of the playoffs.  If that had happened, the Colts wouldn’t be hustling to sell tickets to the game.

But with the Chiefs coming to town for the first Colts home playoff game of the post-Peyton era, the locals have yet to rush the box office.

According to Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star, the Colts have roughly 7,000 tickets to sell in order to lift the blackout for Saturday’s playoff game.

League rules require all non-premium tickets to be sold within 72 hours of kickoff in order to lift the blackout.  Typically, an extension of the deadline is granted only if a commitment has been made by the team and/or its sponsors to buy any remaining tickets at 34 cents on the dollar.  Given that Indy’s deadline lands on New Year’s Day, the league could grant an extension without a commitment to buy the excess tickets.

Owner Jim Irsay has pointed out on Twitter that “MANY” tickets went on sale at 10:00 a.m. Monday.  Ultimately, the question may be how “MANY” tickets he’s willing to buy at a discount to allow folks who can’t or won’t go to the game to enjoy watching the home team play in the playoffs.

UPDATE 10:19 a.m. ET:  The Colts have announced that an extension has been granted, due to the holiday.  The press release states that more than 6,000 tickets remain.

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Clay Matthews ruled out for wild card round game with 49ers

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If the Green Bay Packers hope to get Clay Matthews back on the field this season, they need to have their season extend beyond this weekend’s game with the San Francisco 49ers.

According to Jason Wilde of, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said Monday that Matthews will not be available for the Packers this week in their playoff opener.

“I really don’t have a feel for Clay as far as where he is. I really haven’t even seen him to talk to him,” McCarthy said. “You’re always cautious with players after surgery.

“Right now he’s out for this week and that’s really what we’re focused on.”

Matthews injured his right thumb on a sack of Ben Roethlisberger in Green Bay’s Week 16 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. McCarthy called it “a repeat injury” of the injury suffered by Matthews against the Detroit Lions on Oct. 6. That injury forced Matthews to miss four games for the Packers. Matthews did not play against the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

Matthews has posted 7.5 sacks with 41 tackles and three forced fumbles for the Packers this season.

Matthews did play for the Packers in their season opening 34-28 loss to the 49ers in San Francisco. Colin Kaepernick threw for a career-high 412 yards and three touchdowns against the Packers that day. It was the only 300-yard game of the season for Kaepernick before Sunday’s season finale against the Arizona Cardinals.

With Kaepernick’s dominant performance against the Packers last year in the playoffs as well, Green Bay will need to find someway to slow the 49ers’ offensive attack and do so without Matthews in the lineup.

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Packers teammates tried to not pin hopes to Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers AP

Don’t get them wrong, the Packers are glad to have Aaron Rodgers back this week.

But they had learned over the last month not to get their hopes up.

Packers guard T.J. Lang said he had insulated himself against the possibility of bad news when he was driving to work Thursday, only to find out when he got there that Rodgers was scheduled to play against the Bears in the regular season finale.

I honestly didn’t think he was going to play,” Lang said, via Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. “The last three or four weeks, when he was close, I learned not to get my hopes up. To hear that news on those Fridays that he was not playing, it was tough. . . .

“Everybody just kind of smiled. It’s one of those things where you’re like, ‘Finally, man.’ It was almost a sigh of relief. The news gives you a little spark.”

Getting Rodgers back will be a huge lift for the Packers, who went 2-4-1 in his absence from a broken collarbone, yet remain able to clinch a playoff berth if they beat the Bears.

Now, they almost have to worry about overconfidence, something which was not a problem as they cycled through Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn.

“Just because Aaron is the quarterback doesn’t mean we’re going to be able to go down there, have him walk out of the tunnel first and we get a win,” wide receiver Jordy Nelson said. “Everyone is going to have to do their job. Going into Chicago to beat Chicago isn’t going to be easy.”

Of course, having Rodgers makes it much more possible.

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Cardinals don’t think Crabtree is back to full speed

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As the Cardinals prepare to face the 49ers on Sunday, they’re watching film of San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree and seeing a receiver who isn’t all the way back from the Achilles injury that sidelined him for most of the season.

Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson says he can tell by watching Crabtree that he’s not where he would be if he had been playing all season.

“He’s slowly getting back into the groove, like he’s trying to get back in game shape, get back moving the way he used to,” Peterson said, via the Sacramento Bee. “You can tell he doesn’t look as comfortable as he did when he was healthy. That’s going to come with time.”

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Crabtree seems to be improving each week but isn’t as good as he was last year.

“I do not see the same guy,” he said of Crabtree. “But he’s getting really close.”

Crabtree may not be all the way back, but after his 102-yard game on Monday night, he seems to be close. After averaging 69 receiving yards a game last season, Crabtree is averaging 64 receiving yards a game this season. Perhaps reading the comments from Peterson and Arians will motivate Crabtree to show them on Sunday that he’s just as capable of a big game against the Cardinals this year as he was last year, when he totaled 13 catches for 244 yards and four touchdowns in two games against Arizona.

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Troy Polamalu on Steelers future: Chips will land wherever they may

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The Steelers are hoping for a chaotic final Sunday so that they can wind up advancing to the playoffs out of a five-way scrum of 8-8 teams, but that’s not the likeliest outcome.

It’s more likely that the Steelers’ season will come to an end whether Pittsburgh wins or loses and that the team will start their offseason on Monday. That offseason will feature another round of decisions on veteran members of the roster as the Steelers try to get under the cap while also trying to restock the roster with talent that can help them make it back to the postseason.

One player who will be part of those decisions is safety Troy Polamalu. Polamalu, who turns 33 in April, and will have a salary cap charge of almost $10.9 million in the final year of his contract with the team. While he expects to return next season, Polamalu has seen many teammates leave Pittsburgh over the years and knows that the business side can sometimes drive decisions. That means Polamalu is leaving everyting on the table, including the possibility of retirement.

“I don’t know,” Polamalu said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I really don’t know. … The chips will land wherever they may after this game, and we’ll see. I want to play this game as long and as good as I can play it. Whenever that [retirement] time comes, it will come. I’m not sure when it will come, though.”

Assuming the Steelers want him around, an extension that adds a year or more to Polamalu’s tenure could help bring his cap number to a more manageable level. That seems a more likely outcome than retirement or release, but, like Polamalu, we’ll see where the chips land once the Steelers season officially ends.

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Jerry Jones: Jason Garrett isn’t coaching for his job

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Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was on the radio Tuesday morning, but he didn’t have much to add from Monday’s assessment of quarterback Tony Romo’s status.

Jones reiterated that Romo has not been ruled out of Sunday’s game and that he’s going through treatment in hopes of being cleared by doctors in time to face the Eagles. Jones wouldn’t discuss more about Romo’s medical condition, citing HIPAA regulations, choosing to leave his status a “question mark” as the week unfolds.

Jones was willing to say a bit more about coach Jason Garrett, however. Jones, who said he wouldn’t give repeated votes of confidence in the coach, said that Garrett is not coaching for his job this weekend.

“He has a bright future with the Cowboys,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan, via Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

There’s no timeframe on that future, of course, and Jones has the right and the ability to change his mind at any moment. For now, though, the Cowboys have remained steadfast when it comes to Garrett remaining on the job whether or not they beat the Eagles this weekend.

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