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  #101  
Old 08-28-2017, 12:38 AM
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Injuries affecting Falcons ground attack
August 27, 2017


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons offense, which led the league in scoring last season, looked shaky against in its "dress-rehearsal" game for the regular season.

There was no running back Devonta Freeman, who is in the concussion protocol. They didn't get the ball to All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones, who was making his exhibition debut after offseason foot surgery. And quarterback Matt Ryan, the league's reigning most valuable player, was off the mark on 7 of his 11 passes.

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn has not been pleased with the offense's rushing attack during the exhibition season.

Freeman is set to return to practice on Monday and should give them a boost in practice.

"Devonta Freeman, you'll see back," Quinn said a day after an exhibition game loss to the Cardinals. "He'll return to play (Monday) in some individual (drills). So, that part is good from an injury standpoint."

Freeman, a two-time Pro Bowl player, is in the final stages of the league's five-step concussion protocol. He left practice Aug. 13 and has not practiced since.

"He's still going through the protocol and part of that is returning to practice," Quinn said. "He'll do some individual work. ... He'll start the return-to-play process with us beginning (on Monday)."

The Falcons' exhibition finale is scheduled for Thursday at home against the Jaguars and Quinn has already declared Freeman out for the game.

Freeman agreed to a five-year, $41.25 million contract extension that made him the highest-paid running back in the league earlier this month. The deal had a $15 million signing bonus and included $22 million in guaranteed money.

Last season, Freeman had 1,079 rushing yards with 11 touchdowns and 462 receiving yards with two touchdowns. In his three-year career, Freeman has rushed for 2,383 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Running back Brian Hill (ankle), a fifth-round pick from Wyoming, was battling for the third running back spot. He was declared out for the exhibition season finale with an ankle injury.

The injury hurts for Hill, who appears to be behind Terron Ward for the third running back spot.

"Brian, for sure, would have gotten extended carries again (against Jacksonville)," Quinn said. "We tried to feature him in each of the games to see what he can do. Really, in this system, to get more reps."

That Ward is playing better is no surprise to Quinn.

"It's Terron Ward's third year in the system," Quinn said. "That's over 30-something games for him watching and practicing and getting the looks at it. Brian is still gaining experience in it. For him to miss a week, this week, all of it counts, especially when you're first learning."

The Falcons are high on Hill, but he's off to a slow start rushing the football.

"He's improving, Brian is, on special teams," Quinn said. "We are going to keep working like crazy on offense. One of the areas of emphasis heading into the summer was catching out the backfield. It wasn't a big part of what he did at Wyoming. He's certainly improved in that area."

Ryan tried to connect on a couple of deep passes for Jones, but both were off the mark.

"We are going to take some opportunities down the field and give our guys chances," Ryan said. "They didn't work out and that'll be something that we talk about moving forward. That's part of the game. You're going to give your guys chances down the field. Some are going to hit and some don't."
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  #102  
Old 08-28-2017, 12:39 AM
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Eagles have serious questions at backup QB spot
August 27, 2017


PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles have a quarterback problem. No, it's not starter Carson Wentz. He's doing just fine.

Wentz finished his limited preseason work Thursday night against Miami with a solid one-quarter effort, completing 6 of 10 passes for 129 yards and touchdown throws to the team's two key free-agent acquisitions - wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith.

He'll watch the final preseason game Thursday against the Jets and make his 17th NFL start on Sept. 10 when the Eagles open the regular season against the Washington Redskins.

The problem is backup quarterback Nick Foles. Drafted by the Eagles in 2012, he re-signed with the Eagles in March after spending the previous two years in St. Louis and Kansas City.

He gives them a solid backup in the event something were to happen to Wentz. He has 36 career starts, a 56-27 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio and an 88.1 career passer rating. Four years ago, with the Eagles, he led the league in passing, throwing 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions.

The problem is, he hasn't been healthy. Early in training camp, he came down with a sore elbow on his right throwing arm. He missed two weeks of camp, returned for two practices, then was out again.

He hasn't played in any of the Eagles' first three preseason games, and it's doubtful he'll play against the Jets.

Head coach Doug Pederson listed Foles as "day to day" on Sunday. Asked whether he had a good feel for whether Foles would be able to play against the Jets, he said, "Not yet. It's getting better, obviously. He'll be getting in some throwing against this week. But I don't want to rush him back."

Pederson said he remains confident that Foles will be ready to go for the season opener. But he has not been very accurate with his injury prognoses this summer.

"I am (confident)," he said. "No, I am. I am. These are, obviously, sensitive elbow issues. Being on a throwing arm like that, (we) just want to make sure he's getting the proper amount of throws. That's why we're going to ease him back in again this week and get him ready for the regular season."

The Eagles have two other quarterbacks in camp: Matt McGloin and Dane Evans. Evans essentially is a camp arm. And since the Eagles were only expected to keep two quarterbacks - Wentz and Foles, McGloin basically was putting plays on tape for the rest of the league to see.

But the uncertainty over Foles could change things. They may have to carry a third quarterback - McGloin. If Foles ends up needing surgery, it's doubtful they would be content with McGloin as the season-long backup to Wentz.

Notes: Safety Terrence Brooks was traded to the Jets on Sunday for cornerback Dexter McDougle. Brooks, who played in 11 games for the Eagles last season, wasn't going to make the 53-man roster. McDougle, a former third-round pick of the Jets, also is a longshot to make the Eagles this late in the preseason. But if he plays well in Thursday night's final preseason game against, ironically enough, the Jets, he could possibly win one of the final corner spots. At the moment, just three corners are guaranteed season-opening roster jobs: starters Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, and third-round rookie Rasul Douglas.

--Defensive tackle Beau Allen, who has been sidelined since the spring with a pectoral injury, was removed from the physically unable to perform list and practiced for the first time since his injury. Head coach Doug Pederson said Allen probably will play a little in Thursday's final preseason game against the Jets. "I'm going to be excited to watch him practice the next few days," Pederson said. "We're going to take it slow with him. He hasn't done anything, physically, for a while." Allen is expected to be the Eagles' third tackle this season, behind starters Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan.

Cornerback Ronald Darby, who the Eagles acquired from Buffalo two weeks ago for wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a 2018 third-round pick, had a rough night against Miami in the Eagles' third preseason game. He gave up a 72-yard catch and run to DeVante Parker and drew a 42-yard pass interference penalty after getting beat on a double move by Kenny Stills. Darby, who is the Eagles' most talented cornerback since Asante Samuel, shrugged off his poor performance as "one of those nights." Said Darby: "Some nights everything goes your way. Some nights everything don't. I'd rather it happen now than when it really counts."
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  #103  
Old 08-28-2017, 12:42 AM
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Monday’s six-pack

— Twins 7, Blue Jays 2— Byron Buxton hit three homers for Minnesota.

— Phillies 6, Cubs 3— Rhys Hoskins has 11 HRs in his last 52 at-bats.

— 49ers 31, Vikings 24— Minnesota’s 1st team didn’t look too good.

— Dustin Johnson beat Jordan Spieth in a playoff to win the Northern Trust Open.

— Rookie QB DeShone Kizer will start in Week 1 for the Browns. He was 6-18 passing in Cleveland’s game against the Bucs Saturday night.

— If the baseball playoffs started today (they do not):

AL: Boston-Cleveland-Houston. Wild Cards: New York/Minnesota

NL: Washington-Chicago-Los Angeles. Wild Cards: Arizona/Colorado

*****************************

Monday’s List of 13: Wrapping up a sports weekend

13) Houston is the 4th-largest city in America; they got 24.3 inches of rain in a 24-hour period this weekend. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

LSU-BYU are scheduled to play in Houston next weekend, which seems highly unlikely, with a switch to Baton Rouge the most probably alternative.

Along same lines, Astros will fly to Dallas after today’s game; they’re supposed to host Texas at home Tuesday, but you’d think those games would be switched to Arlington.

12) In 2005, Houston became a second home to a lot of people when Hurricane Katrina pounded New Orleans; now a lot of Houstonians will probably migrate somewhere else. It is very sad that people’s lives get turned upside down by an act of Mother Nature.

11) Dodgers are now 19-1-3 in their last 23 series; before losing 2 of 3 at home to Milwaukee this weekend, the last one they lost was June 5-7 vs Washington.

10) Reds’ 2B Scooter Gennett has three grand slams in 10 AB’s with bases loaded this year.

9) Last year, Patriots WR Julian Edelman was targeted by Tom Brady 38 times on 3rd down, which was more than the next three Patriots combined- Hogan (11), Amendola (11) and Mitchell (10). Now Edelman is out for the season- who will step up and take his place?

8) Hawai’i 38, UMass 35— Rainbows trailed 28-14 in third quarter, scored TD with 0:48 left to make the very long trip home a happy one.

7) New York 10, Seattle 1— Mariners made five errors IN THE FIRST INNING!!! Saturday nights in New York City can be very draining.

Last time a major league team made five errors in one inning? 1977 Cubs.

6) Indians 12, Royals 0— Cleveland led this game 12-0 in the second inning. Oy.

Royals have gone 34 consecutive innings without scoring a run.

5) NFL injury stuff:
— Bears WR Cameron Meredith hurt his knee Sunday, big loss for Chicago— he looked like an up-and-coming star.
— Bears also lost long snapper Patrick Scales (knee).
— Jets’ QB Bryce Petty sprained his MCL, hopes to play in the last preseason game.

4) New Orleans Pelicans lose starting forward Solomon Hill to a torn hamstring- he could miss most of the coming NBA season.

3) Pirates 5, Reds 2— Joey Votto batted five times and walked all five times; his on-base % is .447. Billy Hamilton bats leadoff for the Reds; his on-base % is .296. Why doesn’t Votto bat leadoff?

2) Marlins 6, Padres 2— Giancarlo Stanton’s 50th home run of the year put Miami ahead 4-2 in the bottom of the 8th inning. Marlins are very hot right now.

DL happenings……..
— Royals put P Danny Duffy (elbow) on the DL
— Tigers put DH Victor Martinez (irregular heartbeat) on the DL.
— Cardinals put IF Jedd Gyorko (hamstring) on the DL.
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  #104  
Old 08-29-2017, 12:23 AM
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Tuesday’s six-pack

Six baseball contracts that surprised me:

— Jordan Zimmerman, Det: 3 years, $74M left after this year

— Jose Altuve, Hst: 4 years, $12.5M; club option for 2018. Think they’ll take it?

— David Wright, NYM: Mets are on hook for 3 more years, $47M

— Francisco Cervelli, Pitt: 2 years, $22M left after this year

— Albert Pujols, LAA: 4 years left, $114M left after this year. Oy.

— Mike Trout, LAA: 3 years left, $102M left after this year.

***********************

Tuesday’s List of 13: Nobody asked me, but……..

13) Hurricane happenings:
— Astros-Rangers series this week moves to the Trop in St Petersburg.
— Texans-Cowboys exhibition game Thursday moves to Dallas.
— BYU-LSU football Saturday moves to the Superdome in New Orleans.

12) This storm in Texas might be the worst storm ever; another 15-25 inches of rain is expected between now and Thursday. We pray for everyone down there; stay safe!!!!

11) Only two New York Mets have been active for all their games this season; Jerry Blevins and Jacob deGrom.

10) Mets’ 1B prospect Dominic Smith is batting .161 in his first 59 major league AB’s; it is too early to worry about him (Rhys Hoskins started 0-12 and look how he’s doing) but I saw Smith play in Las Vegas in July and wasn’t all that impressed by him then. Time will tell.

9) June Jones is now the coach of the Hamilton TigerCats of the CFL after the TiCats got off to an awful start this season; he’s brought in former Baylor coach Art Briles as an assistant.

8) Rice University’s football team came back from its game in Australia and has relocated at TCU in Fort Worth, as they wait out the storm/flooding near their campus.

7) Indianapolis Colts traded long snapper Thomas Hennessy to Jets in exchange for safety Ronald Martin. Unusual trade.

6) Miami Marlins have new owners, a team that is rolling right now and the best outfield in all of baseball, but I keep seeing articles on how the the team might trade Giancarlo Stanton at the end of the season. Is that a good idea?

Stanton has a HUGE contract that has a long way to go on it; trading him is a bold move, since he is having a great season and is hugely popular in Miami. What could they get back for him? Tough early decision for the new ownership.

5) The profile of Ivy League basketball is getting bigger; Yale-St Bonaventure game on December 9 is going to be shown on ESPNU.

4) Jets named Josh McCown their starting QB, which if he is healthy, is the only possible choice they could’ve made. Bryce Petty played well Saturday but hurt his knee; the other options were not good at all.

3) Clayton Kershaw is going to be activated later this week and will start either Friday/Saturday against the Padres in San Diego. He threw five innings in a AAA rehab start Saturday.

2) If you want to replace those statues that have been taken down recently, how about a statue of a first responder carrying two little kids out of a flooded house? Those guys are heroes, for sure.

1) DeShone Kizer will be the Cleveland Browns’ 27th different starting QB since 1999.
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  #105  
Old 08-29-2017, 12:30 AM
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2017 NFC Preview
August 28, 2017

Year In Review

Six of the NFL’s eight divisions featured new champions in 2016, the most in a season since 2011.

Since the 12-team playoff format was adopted in 1990, at least four teams have qualified for the playoffs in every season that were not in the postseason the year before. Six teams that missed the postseason in 2015 accomplished the feat this year, including four from the NFC – Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit and the NY Giants. Miami and Oakland were the two AFC squads.

In addition, 52.7% of all regular season games (135 of 256) were decided by a touchdown (7 points) or less – the most in NFL history. The previous high was 131 occurrences in 2015.

The Detroit Lions won eight games when trailing in the fourth quarter in 2016, the most in a single season in NFL history.

And finally, when the Dallas Cowboys won the NFC East division title in 2016 it marked the 13th time in the past 14 seasons that one or more teams went from last or tied for last place to a division championship the following year. The only time a team failed to do so was in 2014.

Red Rover Red Rover

Since 2006, NFC teams off a win have gone 27-9-1 ‘Over’ the total in games with a posted total of less than 37 points following a win, including 13-2 ‘Over’ the last 15 games.

More importantly, they are 18-1 ‘Over’ in this role in non-division games. Play accordingly.

2017 NFC EAST PREVIEW

DALLAS COWBOYS
TEAM THEME: THAT’S WHY THEY CALL IT THE BLUES


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 9.5 -130
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 131.5

For the first time since 2009, two teams from the NFC East found the postseason, only to each go one-and-done courtesy of the Green Bay Packers. Dallas fans should consider it a success, considering they won four games the previous year and lost Tony Romo before the regular season even began. However, we doubt Jerry sees it that way as his ‘Boys, thanks to rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot, garnered home field throughout the NFC playoffs. It does look like Prescott hit the proverbial rookie wall as an 11-1 start evaporated into a 2-3 finish. However, before anointing him the next Roger Staubach, keep this in mind: Robert Griffin III also enjoyed a brilliant Rookie of the Year campaign.

As for Elliott, aside from his 6-game suspension to begin the season, he loses two starters from the league’s best O-line. Top draft selections DE Taco Charlton and LB Chidobe Awuzi address major needs on defense but can the ‘Boys continue to win 70% of their games (7-3) that are decided by a TD or less? Five primetime affairs should tell us firsthand but it would come as no surprise to find the dynamic duo drop a little freshmen weight as a case of the sophomore blues figures to surface in 2017.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cowboys were the only NFL team to go undefeated (10-0) during the regular season against non-division foes in 2016.

PLAY AGAINST: at Washington (10/29)

NEW YORK GIANTS
TEAM THEME: AND THE CARDS SAY… A BROKEN HEART


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8.5 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 129

The G-Men hope ‘rest makes rust’ for more than a few squads as they face four opponents coming off a bye week this season (FYI: teams in this role are 5-8 SU against the fourth foe). They also hope that RB Paul Perkins can inject life into a soft rushing attack that slipped nearly a full yard per carry in 2016 though, oddly enough, they fully failed to address a dismal offensive line situation. However, OT Chad Wheeler out of USC, who garnered First Team All-Pac 12 honors but went undrafted due to a checkered medical and off-field history, could provide immediate help.

The offense did look lackluster at times as Eli’s yardage, touchdowns and QBR rating dropped from the previous two seasons but no assistance should be needed for a passing game that adds first-round selection TE Evan Engram and stud WR Brandon Marshall to the incomparable Odell Beckham. An 8-3 record in games decided by a TD or less may be just what the doctor is ordering in 2017 as the Giants play 10 games against foes that owned winning records last year. And remember: with the Jets still lingering at the bottom, the New York headlines still belong to Big Blue.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Giants are 20-3 ATS as underdogs of 5 or more points following a SU win.

PLAY AGAINST: at Arizona (12/24)

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
TEAM THEME: FROM WENTZ HE CAME


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8 -120
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 129

Carson Wentz’s rookie season was commendable, albeit he ran out of gas, as the former North Dakota State star didn’t have the luxury of facing Western Illinois or Missouri State down the stretch. In fact, the 3-0 start had Eagles fans dreaming big as the last two Philly teams to start the season with that mark made it to the Super Bowl. However, a 4-9 finish flushed away those thoughts, sending the faithful to a different bowl. Don’t expect Wentz to need the Viagra this season, though, as the offense stocked the backfield with Donnel Pumphrey and LaGarrette Blount while adding a pair of big-play receivers in Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith.

The secondary was also made a priority as two corners and a safety were drafted in hopes of defending the likes of Odell Beckham and Dez Bryant. A cushy non-division slate (71-91) helps, too, but jot this down and remember it: Philadelphia lost the fewest amount players to injuries in terms of man games lost in 2016. According to ManGamesLost.com, over the last nine seasons, the NFL team that lost the fewest amount of players to injuries has incurred an equal or worse record the following season ALL NINE YEARS. Gulp.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Eagles are 0-6 ATS in games against .500 or greater AFC West opponents.

PLAY ON: at Washington (9/10)

WASHINGTON REDSKINS
TEAM THEME: SHIRTS OR SKINS?


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 7.5 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 132

What do you get for inheriting a team that went 7-25 prior to your arrival and delivering two winning seasons, including a playoff appearance for just the second time in 8 years? A raise or a pat on the back. Or how about an attaboy. Well, if you’re GM Scot McCloughan, try a pink slip! And while the Redskins have mysteriously yet to hire a new GM, they did hit the free agent market, acquiring Terrelle Pryor, one of 19 WRs with new teams this season. That means Kirk Cousins will have a whole new look as 2016 first-rounder Josh Dotson (played only 2 games) returns from an Achilles injury. The running game may also take on a new appearance as 4th-round steal Samaje Perine may squeeze past ‘Fat’ Rob Kelly and become the primary back.

Defensively, the Redskins massively upgraded their defensive line – one that was 27th against the rush in 2016 – by grabbing DE Jonathan Allen in the first round. Last season was the first time since 1996-97 that the Redskins enjoyed back-to-back winning campaigns. In fact, you have to go back to 1992 to find the last time they recorded three straight winning seasons. Hence, a lot of people have lost their shirts betting on the Skins off a winning year. Will this third one by the charm?

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Redskins are 9-1 SU and 8-1-1 ATS following consecutive wins when facing AFC West opponents.

PLAY AGAINST: at Seattle (11/5)

2017 NFC NORTH PREVIEW

CHICAGO BEARS
TEAM THEME: PARTY POOPERS

Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 5.5 +100
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 126.5

After signing Mike Glennon to a $45 million contract and inviting him to the NFL Draft party at Soldier Field, the Bears then went out and drafted his replacement, trading four picks to move up ONE spot and grab North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky. If that doesn’t sound like an episode of ‘Chicago Injustice’ (are you listening Dick Wolf), then we don’t know what does. It was a cold move that left us shaking our head, reminding us of how the Redskins mortgaged their future in 2012 to move up to the No. 2 spot to grab RGIII - a much higher rated prospect than Trubisky.

We noted last year the success of John Fox in Year Two with a program. It never materialized in Chicago as injuries played a significant role in the Bears’ 3-13 slide, their lowest win total since the NFL expanded to a 16-game slate. Fortunately, Year Three has also been a charm for Fox as he posted a combined 22-13 SU and 21-13-1 ATS mark with both Carolina and Denver. However, this Fox must find a way to improve on a 1-6 SU record last season in games decided by 7 points or less if he wants to get his team out of the NFC North hole.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: John Fox’s teams are 7-0 SUATS away against sub .500 opponents in Year Three with a program.

PLAY ON: at Philadelphia (11/26)

DETROIT LIONS
TEAM THEME: RUNNING ON EMPTY


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 7.5 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 132.5

Despite allowing more yards than they gained and finishing the season with a negative scoring differential, the Lions somehow managed to win more games than they lost in 2016 (9-7). Winning eight of 13 games decided by a TD or less could do that but so could the play of durable QB Matthew Stafford, who hasn’t missed a start since 2010. Stafford is coming off a sixth straight 4,200 plus-yard campaign while leading the Lions to eight 4th-quarter comebacks and eight game winning drives, both NFL single-season records. And with more than $60 million in cap space next year, the 9-year veteran and holder of 30 Detroit passing marks could be in line for the biggest payday in league history.

A revamped offensive line should keep Stafford upright and also inject life into a rushing attack that had the fewest attempts per game (21.5) in 2016 while suffering its third straight sub 90 YPG season. Nine new starters will call Ford Field home this season but surprisingly none of them will reside in the backfield as the Lions lost out on free agent RB LeGarrette Blount to Philadelphia. Oh well, at least the Cardiac Cats are, once again, well-armed as they look to roar into the postseason for the first time in three years.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Head coach Jim Caldwell’s teams are 6-1 SUATS in games with rest.

PLAY ON: at Green Bay (11/6)

GREEN BAY PACKERS
TEAM THEME: A LEAP OF FAITH

Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 10.5 +110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 130


Eight straight postseason appearances has only the Pack residing in New England’s neighborhood but it isn’t enough as Aaron Rodgers (89-59-4 ATS in his NFL career, including 36-17 ATS in division duels) and company have only delivered one Lombardi Trophy to Title Town during that span. And while we’d love to anoint them as this year’s NFC rep, we must first see if Mike McCarthy can fix a defense that has regressed each of the past two seasons – and patch an offensive line that lost a pair of Pro Bowl guards and a starting center. By acquiring secondary help through the draft in the form of 2nd-rounders CB Kevin King and S Josh Jones and free agency, the Packers did address a major need: helping a defense that ranked dead last in the league in passing yards allowed (277.7), passing yards per attempt (7.6) and total yards per play (6.9).

Versatile speedster Ty Montgomery takes over for the departed Eddie Lacy but fourth-round pick Jamaal Williams, who is built like a tank and ran like one at BYU, figures to make many Lambeau leaps. The third fewest travel miles (8,062) in league this season also figures to keep the Pack fresh for the annual postseason run.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Packers have been humbled in their six meetings with sub .500 AFC North opponents, going 1-5 SU all-time.

PLAY ON: at Atlanta (9/17) - *KEY

MINNESOTA VIKINGS
TEAM THEME: THE BRADFORD EXCHANGE


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8.5 +120
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 127.5

Talk about a godsend. Not only did Sam Bradford step in admirably for Teddy Bridgewater, whose knee was virtually destroyed in a preseason non-contact drill, he enjoyed the finest season of his NFL career, completing over 71% of his passes while chalking up a QBR rating of 99.3. A pair of quality tackles joins the offensive mix this season in Riley Reiff (Lions) and Mike Remmers (Panthers), as does WR Michael Floyd and RB Latavius Murray. The Vikings also drafted RB Dalvin Cook in hopes of boosting a rushing attack that ranked dead last in the league. FYI: Peter King of SI predicts Cook will be a Top 5 running back by Halloween. If that were to happen, Minnesota’s offense could be scary good and should average more than 320 YPG for the first time since 2013.

As for the defense, it was stingy last season, ranking 5th in points allowed (19.2) and 3rd in total defense (314.9) and has improved every year under 4th-year head coach Mike Zimmer, who underwent his 8th eye surgery in May. We have our sights set on this group early as December is dotted with road games at Atlanta, Carolina, and Green Bay.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Snow or no snow, the Vikings are 16-5 ATS in their last 21 games in the month of December.

PLAY AGAINST: at Carolina (12/10) - *KEY

2017 NFC SOUTH PREVIEW

ATLANTA FALCONS
TEAM THEME: DAN QUINN – MEDICINE MAN?


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 9.5 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 133

Thanks to questionable play-calling and clock management, the Falcons blew a 25-point lead in regulation to lose the Big One in overtime – leaving management with this sobering thought: time to bring in OC Steve Sarkisian to replace the departed Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco). Despite a costly fumble, the largest choke job in Super Bowl history can’t be pinned on Matt Ryan as he set career postseason highs in completion percentage (73.9), average yards per pass attempt (12.35) and QB rating (144.1). ‘Matty Ice’ was also on fire during the regular season as the Atlanta offense tallied a whopping 540 points (71 more than their nearest competitor). The collapse led to the firing of DC Richard Smith and we know teams with 1st-year coordinators tend to struggle.

Super Bowl losers also find the going tough on the non-division highway next season, posting a 78-95-1 SU and 73-93-8 ATS log, including 27-46-5 ATS as chalk. Despite five primetime affairs in 2017, the NFL did the Falcons no favors, pegging them with the 5th most difficult schedule (foes’ wins project to 133). Break out the medicine, Dan.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Falcons were winless on the Monday Night road since 1979 before winning three Monday Night road games last season.

PLAY AGAINST: at Seattle (11/20)

CAROLINA PANTHERS
TEAM THEME: ALL THOSE WONDERFUL TOYS


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 9 -120
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 127

As is usually the case from a Super Bowl loser, the Panthers took a big fall in 2016. And there’s plenty of blame to go around for the 11-game decline! The offense regressed 8 points and 22 yards per game as former reigning MVP Cam Newton completed just 52.9% of his passes and learned first hand about Sir Isaac’s Third Law of Motion (for every force there is a reaction force). In addition, the defense also slipped 42 YPG as LB Luke Keuchly’s fearlessness led him to concussion protocol (as did five other Panthers). The good news for Newton is Christmas came early. The Cats’ spent their first two draft picks on Christian McCaffrey (Stanford) and Curtis Samuel (Ohio State), a pair of athletic, pass-catching backs who should excel in the slot.

They also retained the services of TE Greg Olsen, a vital cog in the Cats’ attack. In fact, no other tight end in the NFL has a higher percentage of his team’s receiving yards over the past three years than Olsen (27.3 percent of the Panthers’ 11,663 yards and 25.8 percent of the team’s 241 receptions). Rest assured, this Newton won’t ‘stay at rest’ this season and the ‘good hands’ offense just may insure a return to the playoffs.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Cam Newton has been sacked or hit 922 times since 2011. Seattle’s Russell Wilson is second with 615.

PLAY ON: at Tampa Bay (10/29) - *KEY

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
TEAM THEME: OH CRAP, HERE WE GO AGAIN

Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 139

The number seven may make some money in Vegas but three consecutive 7’s (as in win seasons) means its time for the Saints to crap out or get off the toilet. (FYI: the odds of rolling 7 at the table is “1 in 6”.) And though we don’t see snake eyes with Drew Brees at the helm, the Saints – hands down – face the most difficult schedule with foes projected to win 139 games, a gap of 4.5 wins to the next toughest. New Orleans did hit the free agent market, inking Adrian Peterson, which is somewhat of a curious move considering Mark Ingram tallied 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career and the Saints employ a shotgun offense.

Though they bombed badly the previous two years with secondary selections, HC Sean Payton will, once again, look to patch up the league’s worst pass defense with the selections of CB Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State) and S Marcus Williams (Utah). And though there’s always a strong ‘Brees’ in the bayou, the winds of change may take some time – especially with Pro Bowl C Max Unger still wobbly from a lingering foot injury, and the Saints residing in the ultra-competitive NFC South.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Saints are far from Aints when they take on AFC East foes off an ATS win, going 15-1 ATS in their last 16 such games.

PLAY ON: at Atlanta (12/7)

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
TEAM THEME: COOKIE KOETTERS


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8 +120
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 125

As we thought, the Buccaneers broke on through to the other side, going from losers for five straight seasons to winners in 2016, despite regressing on both sides of the ball. That’s a major cause for concern, especially in a division that has no ‘gimmees’. Tampa inked Ryan Fitzpatrick to back up Jameis Winston– his 7th team NFL team in 10 years. Let hope the human turnover machine is not needed, given Fitzy’s 46-69-1 win-loss record, 166-133 TD-to-INT ratio and 79.7 career passing rating. The Bucs did hit the free agent pool, landing big fish WR DeSean Jackson. The extremely talented, outspoken Iverson, err Jackson, will team with Mike Evans, giving the offense a solid 1-2 punch.

Winston also got another toy via draft with the signing of O.J. Howard. Fox Sports notes that Howard caught just seven touchdowns in four years at Alabama. You have to go back 10 years to find a draft where the first tight end off the board scored less. Then again, that tight end was Greg Olsen! However, to build off last season’s success, the Bucs will need to be able to hang their hat at home more often as a 7-18 SU and 8-17 ATS mark in their last 25 games at the ‘New Sombrero’ won’t cut it. Inking DC Mike Smith to a contract extension will help.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: After their last two winning seasons, the Bucs went 3-13 and 4-12 the following years, respectively.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Carolina (12/24) - *KEY

2017 NFC WEST PREVIEW

ARIZONA CARDINALS
TEAM THEME: ALL ABOARD THE ‘A’ TRAIN


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8 -130
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 123.5

Suffice to say it wasn’t a great year to be a Palmer in the sports world. Arnie’s Army lost their king while the Cardinals’ Carson was wobbly from start to finish, resulting in a 71-point drop off in total points scored from the previous season. And though the Redbirds surprisingly didn’t draft a quarterback, they did add Blaine Gabbert and undrafted rookie Trevor Knight to the backup pool of Drew Stanton and Zac Dysert. Fortunately, whoever starts under center will have the luxury of handing off to the league’s leading rusher. David Johnson tallied 2,118 total yards while posting 15 straight games with at least 100 yards from scrimmage, matching Barry Sanders for the longest-single season streak in NFL history. The Cards also added speedy linebacker Haason Reddick and hyperactive safety Budda Baker to an already aggressive defense that held four foes to under 10 points last season. A soft slate – opponents 2017 win totals project to a combined 123.5 (3rd fewest in the league) – may be offset by the second most air miles in the loop this season (30,422), but we’ll still look for Bruce Arians to raise Arizona back to postseason status.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians is 13-1 SU and 12-2 ATS at home against foes off a SUATS win.

PLAY ON: vs. L.A. Rams (10/22)

LOS ANGELES RAMS
TEAM THEME: SEND IN THE FIXER


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 6 +110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 128.5

Considering the Rams have fielded the youngest squad in the league over the past five seasons, the hiring of 31-year-old Sean McVay – the youngest head coach in NFL history – should come as no surprise. That should help in the development of Jared Goff as McVay and his staff have a strong resume with quarterbacks, in particular Kirk Cousins. The Rams added a couple of offensive pieces through the draft (TE Gerald Everett, WR Copper Kupp) but it’s not enough for an offense that has averaged 20 PPG only four times since 2004. They’ll need RB Todd Gurley to return to rookie form as the 2016 campaign saw a dropoff in rushing yards (1,106 to 885), yards per carry (4.8 to 3.2) and TDs (10 to 6) despite playing in three more games. Wade Phillips was a terrific hire to spearhead a defense that allowed more points than the numbers would suggest. However, a mid-October trip to Jacksonville followed by a cross-continent journey to London (against Arizona) capped by a trip to New York to face the Giants finds the Rams logging the most miles in the league this season (32,498) and could take a late-season toll.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Rams haven’t had a winning season since 2003, the longest active streak in the NFL.

PLAY ON: at NY Giants (11/5)

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
TEAM THEME: GOLD DUST


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 5 +100
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 128.5

Taking a page out of Cleveland’s QB situation, the 49ers turn to Kyle Shanahan – their 3rd head coach in three years. They also have a new man calling the shots. Rookie GM John Lynch, a disciple of John Elway, killed it in the draft by looting the Bears (who apparently made their moves from a pub on Rush Street) while still filling defensive holes, getting DE Solomon Thomas with the 3rd pick and adding LB Reuben Foster later in the round. If LB NaVorro Bowman can come back from a pair of gruesome knee and Achilles tendon injuries, the stop-unit could be upper echelon in a hurry.

The Niners also made significant roster changes to an offense that continued to sputter, ranking next to last in total yards per game (308.1). QB Brian Hoyer holds an edge over Matt Barkley for the starting job, while WRs Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin and RB Tim Hightower should make immediate contributions. Hoyer has been a serviceable journeyman (16-16 SU in his well-traveled career, including 9-2 ATS in division games) and actually played for Shanahan when he was the offensive coordinator in Cleveland, posting a 10-6 SU and 10-5-1 ATS mark as a starter on teams that ended the season 11-21. And with Shanahan also assuming the play-calling duties in the bay, being reunited just might feel so good.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The 49ers are 9-1 SU in Last Home Games the last ten seasons.

PLAY ON: at Arizona (10/1)

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
TEAM THEME: MONDAY, MONDAY – CAN TRUST THAT DAY


Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 10.5 -130
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 123
No team will face an easier set of foes in 2017 than Seattle as their slate of opponents is tabbed at 123 combined season wins. In fact, the Seahawks are the only team in the NFC with no back-to-back road games on their itinerary. The ‘12th Man’ is certainly a nice advantage but it probably doesn’t matter where the games are being played to a defense that held a league-best five foes to under 10 points, allowed 3.4 DYPR and registered 42 sacks, trailing only Arizona and Carolina. We’re sure Pete Carroll would love to be playing at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on February 4th… and he just might get there provided he can keep a shaky OL in tact.

Outside of their opener in Lambeau and a Christmas Eve affair in Dallas, the Seahawks’ toughest contest looks to be a Monday night affair at home just before Thanksgiving, bringing in this little gem: the Russell Wilson-led ‘Hawks have never lost on MNF – and the last time Seattle lost on MNF was December 6, 2004 versus Dallas. This year’s MNF foe happens to be the Super Bowl-losing Atlanta Falcons, the team that booted them in the NFC championship game last season. FYI: the last time Seattle lost to Atlanta in the postseason, they went on to win the Super Bowl (and 16 games) the following year. Hmm.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Seattle has not had a single first round pick in the NFL draft over the last five years.

PLAY ON: at Green Bay (9/10)
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Old 08-30-2017, 01:09 AM
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Detroit Lions Outlook
August 29, 2017

Matthew Stafford Is Worth Every Penny

Matthew Stafford just signed a gargantuan 5-year, $135 million contract to pilot the Detroit Lions through 2022. The deal instantly makes Stafford the highest paid quarterback in the league, not that he was suffering for cash to begin with. This is familiar ground for the Detroit quarterback as he also signed the richest deal of any rookie at the time back when he entered the league in 2008.

Obviously, a lot of detractors have come out of the woodwork to lament the deal. After all, Matthew Stafford has been at the helm for precisely three playoff losses in as many tries and an obnoxiously terrible 5-46 SU record against winning teams. These aren’t made-up stats, guys.

None of this is meant to suggest that Matthew Stafford is a bad quarterback. For the past six seasons, he’s routinely ranked in the top-10 in terms of yards and touchdowns and is also the record holder for some insane production landmarks.

Matthew Stafford is the fastest player to reach 15,000 passing yards, 20,000 passing yards, 25,000 passing yards and 30,000 passing yards in a career. And the eight comebacks that he led in the fourth quarter last year are also a really big deal.

That’s really the whole point of Stafford getting $135 million over a handful of seasons. You may not win a Super Bowl with the team surrounding Stafford, but you’re certainly not going to win one without a guy like him. He can put a bad team on his backs and carry you forward to heights you flat out don’t deserve.

Obviously, this doesn’t really change the outlook of things for the Detroit Lions in the NFL futures market at BetOnline.ag. They’re still holding a Regular Season Win Total of just 8 games after going 9-7 SU last year and getting thrashed by Seattle in the first round of the playoffs. And they’re also +2800 to win the NFC.

At first glance, the +2800 odds the Detroit Lions are getting to win the NFC Championship aren’t that bad…until you realize that it’s the fifth worst in the entire conference.

WORST ODDS TO WIN NFC IN 2017
Team Odds
Detroit Lions +2800
Washington Redskins +2800
Los Angeles Rams +6600
Chicago Bears +8000
San Francisco 49ers +12500


It’s interesting that Detroit is tied with Washington in the above market for the simple reason that Kirk Cousins has long been seeking a deal worthy of his production. Cousins is by no means the talent that Stafford is, but he’s produced wins and been very consistent over the past two years. How this deal impacts Cousins next summer will be fascinating.

Stafford’s monster deal comes on the heels of Derek Carr signing a $125 million deal which as the previous record for an NFL player. The reason you do that if you’re Oakland is because your team is good enough to win a Super Bowl right now. The Raiders are the third choice in the AFC Championship market at BetOnline.ag with a value of +700 behind New England and Pittsburgh.

So why do this if you’re Detroit? Well for one, you know for a fact that it’s hard to find good quarterbacks in the modern era. You also remember that you’re the Detroit Lions, a team whose only notable free-agent singing in the last five years was Golden Tate.

Where this gets interesting is how Detroit manages the cap from here on out. Stafford’s deal is evenly loaded throughout every season with his cap hit equaling between $26.5M and $33M every year. That makes it a bit more difficult to sign proper stars to build around Stafford.

After all, while you may know a lot about Derek Carr’s contract, what you didn’t know is that he left a lot of money on the table so he could keep his offensive line intact.

The proper move for Detroit was to sign Stafford to a mega deal. That was going to happen. Whether the price they’ve paid is too steep will only be proven in the years to come. This contract offer was a reflection of both how hard it is to secure a top tier NFL quarterback, and the desperation franchises are facing to ensure that they have that type of player under center.
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NFL 2017: Rodgers, Packers rule anew the NFC North
August 29, 2017


The Minnesota Vikings renovated an offensive line that sputtered through last season, seeking better balance with their potentially dominant defense.

The Detroit Lions brought in new blockers, too, aiming to revive a dormant ground game and give franchise cornerstone Matthew Stafford more support.

The Chicago Bears traded up for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the second pick in the draft, solidifying a long-range strategy.

Ambitions and hopes are high, of course, at this time of the year. The long-term NFL optimism around the Great Lakes states inevitably took a bit of a hit on Aug. 3, though, when Aaron Rodgers made clear his disinterest in retirement or departure from the Green Bay Packers anytime soon .

Sigh.

The NFC North competition sure can't count on a reprieve from these twice-annual matchups against one of the league's best .

Asked if he could envision playing as long as Tom Brady has with the New England Patriots, on the day one of his few peers in the league turned 40, Rodgers left no doubt.

''I do think it's realistic,'' said Rodgers, who will be 34 on Dec. 2. ''I hope it's in this locker room, though. That would mean it's been at a high level.''

Engineering an eighth straight playoff appearance for the Packers last season, including a fifth division title in that span, Rodgers produced a vintage run of dominance following a 4-6 start by the team that was marked by some rather ordinary performances by his elite standard.

He threw 21 touchdown passes, with one interception, to lead the Packers to eight straight victories until falling to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game.

''I still feel pretty young,'' Rodgers said after that game. ''I think I have a number of years left in me.''

Yikes.

Here are some of the headlines around the division as September approaches:

STACKING THE SECONDARY


Only one team in the NFL allowed more passing yards last season than the Packers. Only two teams gave up more touchdowns through the air. The priority for 2017, thus, was obvious. Cornerback Kevin King and safety Josh Jones were their first two draft picks, and cornerback Davon House returned as a free agent following a two-year stay in Jacksonville.

The goal was to build a bigger and stronger secondary, with hands-on, hard-press coverage at the line of scrimmage considered these days a defense's best weapon for disruption of an opponent's passing attack.

With starting cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins each entering their third seasons and fourth-year safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance, there's plenty of potential for this group to improve.

BRADFORD PROTECTION PROGRAM


After surpassing the Packers in 2015 to finish 11-5 for the division title and starting last season 5-0, the Vikings careened off-track because of some uncharacteristic lapses by the defense at critical moments, struggles by since-cut kicker Blair Walsh and a litany of injuries along the offensive line.

Even when fully healthy, there were questions about the protection, but Sam Bradford too often had to settle for a menu of quick, short throws to evade the pass rush. The running game was no help. Given time, Bradford proved his accuracy .

But he took a career-most 37 sacks, a trend that can't continue if the Vikings are going to keep him healthy, let alone return to the playoffs. They signed two new tackles, Riley Reiff (Detroit) and Mike Remmers (Carolina), to try to bolster the front.

STAFFORD'S SIDEKICKS


The Lions accumulated the third-fewest rushing yards in the league in 2016 after finishing last the previous season. Still counting on some combination of Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Dwayne Washington and Zach Zenner to better supplement Stafford in the offense , the Lions also attempted an offensive line upgrade with right guard T.J. Lang arriving from Green Bay and right tackle Rick Wagner signed away from Baltimore to replace Reiff.

Greg Robinson will be the new starter at left tackle, where cornerstone Taylor Decker has been absent since shoulder surgery in June that could keep him out for a significant portion of the season.

Having engineered an NFL record with eight wins for the Lions in 2016 following fourth-quarter deficits, Stafford now has the richest contract ($135 million maximum value) in league history. The ninth-year quarterback will need a lot more help for the Lions to match last season's winning record.

REBUILDING THE BEARS


Trubisky will wait behind Mike Glennon for now, with the Bears seeking to begin a long climb from the deep hole they plummeted into during a 3-13 finish in 2016. There are pieces in place to accelerate the process, starting with running back Jordan Howard and his 1,300-yard rookie year.

The defense was so ravaged by injuries last season it was difficult to tell, but there are enough standouts in the front seven to make for a miserable afternoon for more than one unprepared opponent. Linebackers Danny Trevathan and Leonard Floyd and defensive linemen Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks will lead the way.
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Old 08-30-2017, 01:13 AM
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NFL notebook: Dickerson to sign one-day deal
August 29, 2017


Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson will sign a one-day contract with the Los Angeles Rams on Tuesday and officially retire with the organization, the team announced.

Dickerson, 56, told AM 570 in Los Angeles that he and the Rams are also working on a way for him to have an official role with team.

--The New England Patriots acquired linebacker Marquis Flowers from the Cincinnati Bengals in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick.

Flowers has played primarily on special teams for Cincinnati since being selected out of Arizona with a sixth-round draft pick in 2014. The 25-year-old recorded seven tackles last season and 15 total in 32 games over the last two years.

The Bengals elected to let Flowers go despite fellow linebacker Vontaze Burfict facing a potential five-game suspension.

--The Buffalo Bills could have an issue under center with quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and T.J. Yates still in the league's concussion protocol.

Coach Sean McDermott updated the condition of the two on Tuesday, two days ahead of the team's final preseason game against the Detroit Lions.

Rookie Nathan Peterman and newly signed Keith Wenning are the only two healthy quarterbacks on the roster, with McDermott admitting he's mindful that Peterman could be the team's season-opening starter.

--The New York Giants waived Owa Odighizuwa on Tuesday, one day after the defensive end was suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing substances.

A third-round draft pick out of UCLA in 2015, Odighizuwa appeared in jeopardy of not making the 53-man roster in the wake of a nondescript preseason.

The 6-foot, 264-pounder also did not endear himself to the coaching staff by skipping all of the voluntary organized team activities.

--The Detroit Lions waived offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio.

Kouandjio was expected to compete with former No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson for the Lions' left tackle position after Taylor Decker underwent offseason shoulder surgery.

Robinson, who was signed by the Lions in June, started 14 games for the Los Angeles Rams last season and 42 of 46 career NFL contests at both tackle and guard.

Kouandjio played in 25 games with Buffalo since being selected in the second round of the 2014 draft. The 24-year-old sustained a hip injury at his home in January and then was hospitalized after police found him half-naked in a field in April, with the Bills waiving him the following month.

--The Pittsburgh Steelers acquired tight end Vance McDonald and a fifth-round selection in the 2018 draft from the San Francisco 49ers for a fourth-round pick in the same draft.

McDonald recorded career highs in receiving yards (391), yards per reception (16.3) and touchdowns (four) in 11 games last season before sustaining a shoulder injury. The 27-year-old McDonald has reeled in 64 receptions for 866 yards and seven touchdowns in 48 career games since being selected by San Francisco in the second round of the 2013 draft.

--Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones reiterated his support of Ezekiel Elliott with the second-year running back in New York appealing his six-game suspension.

"... It's a very complicated issue because you have no evidence here. That's all I want to say about it. But it creates quite a convoluted approach by Zeke's representatives and by the league that I really hate is a focus of all of our attention. I do. Even though others would say that the issue needs this kind of focus and you're using the NFL for visibility."

Arbitrator Harold Henderson, who was appointed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to hear the appeal, does not have a time frame in which to make a decision once the hearing concludes.

--Indianapolis Colts cornerback Vontae Davis is considered week-to-week with what the team is labeling a "pretty significant" groin injury.

Coach Chuck Pagano revealed the injury status of the two-time Pro Bowl selection on Tuesday.

Davis sustained the injury in the first half of Saturday's preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The 29-year-old, who is not expected to undergo surgery, has missed just nine games in five seasons with the Colts.

--Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman has cleared the NFL's concussion protocol and is ready for action, coach Dan Quinn announced.

Freeman has been sidelined for more than two weeks with a concussion, although it is unlikely he'll play in Atlanta's final preseason game.

A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Freeman signed a five-year, $41.25 million contract extension in the offseason after helping the Falcons in their run to the Super Bowl.

--Washington Redskins nose tackle Phil Taylor Sr. will miss the entire upcoming season with a torn left quad, coach Jay Gruden announced.

Taylor sustained the injury during the first quarter of Sunday's preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
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Old 08-30-2017, 01:15 AM
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Bears start Trubisky in preseason finale
August 29, 2017


LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Quarterback Mike Glennon will not play in the Chicago Bears Thursday's preseason finale and neither will backup Mark Sanchez.

Rookie Mitchell Trubisky will start at quarterback and play mostly with backups against Cleveland, then Connor Shaw will finish the game.

Coach John Fox said it was important for Trubisky to get in snaps. It's possible it will be the last time he plays this season.

"It's not easy to get live game reps as a quarterback in this league," Fox said. "It helps development. He needs all those opportunities he can get and no different Thursday night."

Sanchez has played only a handful of snaps all preseason and Fox said it's not a problem.

"I think he's had a lot of looks," Fox said. "It just hasn't been with us other than practice, which is fine for us."

Sanchez, the former New York Jets starter and Dallas backup, missed some of the Bears OTA work, as well, due to a knee injury.

--Guard Kyle Long's return from ankle surgery has been slow but the team hasn't given up hope he'll be back for the opener. They tried a number of options in case it takes longer. One was playing center Cody Whitehair at guard in Long's place and using third-year center Hroniss Grasu with the starters.

But this week the Bears were back to playing reserve Tom Compton at left guard and using Whitehair back at center.

"He's on target," Fox said about Long. "We're hopeful. Again, he's really day to day as far as coming off that ankle, so we'll just continue to rehab until medically he's cleared and out here practicing."

When Long last practiced at any length, it was in (training camp) and he got into a pair of fights. One was with his former college teammate, Grasu.

"He's one of my best friends," Grasu said. "It's just like how brothers fight -- it's training camp. Little things get on your nerves sometimes. It was a little something.

"It was definitely for the good. Right away (we) worked it out. We're best friends. He's a brother of mine. I love the guy. So it's all good."

--Defensive end Akiem Hicks isn't surprised to see Jonathan Bullard making an impact in preseason games. Bullard added 12 pounds this season and has been stronger against the run and pass than in his rookie year.

"I think everybody has to take those leaps and bounds when you first come into the league and realize that it was a big-boy game in college, but now it's an even a bigger-guy game," Hicks said. "You know what I mean?

"These are full-grown men. These guys are averaging between 25 and 30 years old -- playing with 19 and 20 in college. I think the game definitely is changed there for you and you just have to hunker down and be humble and make sure you're doing the right thing in order for you to progress."

Looking at the roster:

--Linebacker Leonard Floyd (foot) was injured during Sunday's game and returned to practice on Tuesday.

--Cornerback Prince Amukamara (ankle) was injured on the first play from scrimmage of Sunday's game and is day to day. He was wearing a boot cast after the game, then missed Tuesday's practice.

--Wide receiver Cameron Meredith (knee) suffered a torn left ACL and is out for the season.

--Offensive lineman Bradley Sowell was called on to replace long snapper Patrick Scales in Sunday's win over Tennessee and did so without incident, but Fox said he is not an option being considered for the regular season at the position.

--Linebacker Danny Trevathan (knee) practiced on a limited basis Tuesday (Aug. 29), but did not play in Sunday's game.

--Linebacker Jonathan Anderson (ankle) is day to day with an injury suffered a week ago. He did not play Sunday against Tennessee.

--Cornerback Johnthan Banks (leg) returned Tuesday to practice after missing Sunday's game.

--Wide receiver Josh Bellamny (ankle) returned Tuesday to practice and may play Thursday against Cleveland.

--Defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard (thigh) remains out and is day to day with an injury suffered in the second preseason game.

--Cornerback Bryce Callahan (hamstring) returned to practice Tuesday and played in place of injured Prince Amukamara at left cornerback.

--Running back Ka'Deem Carey (wrist) is out for five more weeks following surgery.

--Defensive lineman DeAndre Houston-Carson (back) is day to day but is practicing.

--Defensive back Chris Prosinski (hamstring) missed practice with an injury suffered earlier in camp.

--Defensive lineman Mitch Unrein (concussion) returned to practice after passing the league protocol.

--Wide receiver Markus Wheaton (broken finger) is day to day after surgery.

--Among players waived were defensive lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore, linebacker Alex Scearce and long snapper Patrick Scales (knee) was waived injured after he was hurt during Sunday's game with Tennessee.

Long snapper Jeff Overbaugh was signed. He was with the Rams during last preseason and in the offseason was on Denver's roster.
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Old 08-30-2017, 01:16 AM
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Chiefs QB Mahomes starts preseason finale
August 29, 2017


KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- First-round draft pick Patrick Mahomes makes his first NFL start for the Kansas City Chiefs in a preseason game on Thursday night against the Tennessee Titans.

Head coach Andy Reid wants to see how his young quarterback handles the scenario.

"It's another step forward and opportunity to see how he handles it and to continue to grow," Reid said. "It's a win-win from his standpoint. A chance to get in a game as a starter and put that one under your belt that you've done it. "

Mahomes and the second-team offense will start the game and play the first half. Tyler Bray and Joel Stave plan to play the third and fourth quarters respectively.

The No. 10 overall pick from this year's draft says his first start will be special to him.

"It's a preseason game but we'll all be treating it like it's a real one," Mahomes said. "It'll still be an opportunity for a lot of guys to get some reps and they're going to be going out there and going hard every single play."

Offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said he wants to see Mahomes show what he learned in his previous preseason outings, particularly with his pocket presence.

"He understands he needs to push up in the pocket and stay in the pocket, if he can, and go through his progression," Nagy said. "Right now, his understanding is good. He is a smart football player and he gets it."

Critics of Mahomes frequently cite his footwork as an area of improvement. Nagy often works with the rookie quarterback on his dropbacks as well as his positioning on handoffs and play action.

Nagy believe Mahomes made great strides in that area.

"That is a credit to him because he cares," Nagy said. "He is very coach-able. We give him things that he can try and test out. We don't say this is the way you have to do it, try it out and see if you like it."

Mahomes believe he's progressed significantly through offseason workouts, training camp and the preseason.

"I feel like I've gotten better every single time I've been out there," Mahomes said, "and that's just learning the playbook more and more, trying to get the protections right and do everything right. That's just something that will keep being a process."

Thursday's game likely marks the end of significant playing time for Mahomes this season, barring a disaster with starter Alex Smith.

But Mahomes believes he's picked up enough during preseason to prepare him for a season as the backup quarterback.

"Going on scout team and throwing against our defense, which is one of the best in the league, is going to help a ton," Mahomes said. "Just keep adding on every single day in whatever way that I can."

--A likely season-ending injury for running back Spencer Ware means rookie Kareem Hunt stands next in line for the Chiefs in the backfield.

"We got a challenge and we all just want to help out and don't want to miss a step, miss a beat off this," Hunt said. "We've just got to come prepared and ready to work every day."

This isn't the first time an injury propelled an inexperienced Hunt into a starting role. During his freshman year at Toledo in 2013, starting running back David Fluellen suffered an ankle injury in mid-October. The senior back tallied 1,121 yards in the injury-shortened season with a gaudy 6.7 yards per carry.

The Rockets offense, however, did not skip a beat with Hunt in the backfield. The true freshman topped the 100-yard mark five times in the team's last six games of the season. He rushed for 866 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.

Now Hunt must help carry the load for the Chiefs in his rookie season.

"It's not the way I wanted it to happen, but now it's my time to step up and fill some big shoes," Hunt said.

Head coach Andy Reid showed no worries in leaning on a rookie for a team with championship ambitions.

"I've had some rookies that have played for me," Reid said. "As long as they come in and learn. He did that. He's handled himself the right way. We feel like he can handle it."

Quarterback Alex Smith agreed.

"I think everybody is confident with him back there," Smith said.

Hunt has two experienced running backs behind him on the depth chart, C.J. Spiller and Charcandrick West. Spiller says he's impressed by the rookie back, and believes he can help Hunt navigate his way through his rookie season.

"He's going to continue to learn, figure stuff out," Spiller said. "I'm going to share a ton of my knowledge that I have with him to help him enhance his game."
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Foles likely to sit out Eagles' preseason finale
August 29, 2017

PHILADELPHIA -- Nick Foles, who has been sidelined with a sore elbow for most of training camp, isn't expected to play in the Philadelphia Eagles' final preseason game Thursday night against the New York Jets.

Foles has already missed the first three games and has practiced only twice in the last 3 1/2 weeks. But coach Doug Pederson insists he's confident that Foles will be ready for the Week 1 opener against the Washington Redskins on Sept. 10.

"I'm comfortable with him not playing," Pederson said. "I've been around Nick a long time. I had him here years ago and watched his career. He's a veteran guy that knows how to get himself prepared and ready for games. I'm not concerned in any way."

--The Eagles traded long-snapper Jon Dorenbos to the New Orleans Saints on Monday for a 2019 seventh-round pick.

Dorenbos, 37, was the longest tenured Eagle. He had been with the team since 2006. But he broke a wrist in December and the Eagles decided to go with Rick Lovato.

"It's tough, it's tough," coach Doug Pederson said of trading Dorenbos. "I've known him for a long time. He's been sort of the icon and the staple around the city of Philadelphia for a lot of years."

Rick Lovato will be the team's long snapper.

--The Eagles have three defensive backs on their roster who can play cornerback and safety -- starting safety Malcolm Jenkins, Corey Graham and Jaylen Watkins.

"I think it's an asset (to be able to play both)," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "First of all, it's tough to find guys who can do both."

--QB Matt McGloin is expected to take the lion's share of snaps Thursday against the Jets.

--LB Jordan Hicks, who is recovering from a groin injury, said he expects to be ready for the season opener against Washington on Sept. 10.

--RB Corey Clement, an undrafted free agent, is fighting for a roster spot. The former Wisconsin standout has played well, but probably will end up on the practice squad.
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Cardinals' Arians: Gabbert 'could be a starter'
August 29, 2017


Quarterback Blaine Gabbert will start Thursday's game at Denver and play about 15 or snaps. Undrafted rookie free agent Trevor Knight will play the rest of the way.

Coach Bruce Arians gave his assessment of Gabbert based on a short-term and long-term evaluation.

"Short term, it's been amazing how he could grasp this much information and go play with it fast," Arians said. "We've kept it to where he could play fast in games; in practices it's a little slower in that you're throwing everything at him. But I've been very pleased with him. Short term, I'd be very comfortable if he had to play for us.

"Long term, if he continues at his rate, he could be a starter."

Can he be a successful starter?

"Oh, I don't think there's any doubt, yeah," Arians said.

--Running back Chris Johnson's spot on the roster doesn't appear to be safe and he could be among some of the biggest names across the league when final roster cuts are announced Saturday. Losing two fumbles in Saturday's preseason game at Atlanta didn't help the veteran, who once rushed for more than 2,000 yards for Tennessee.

"It's going to be a tough decision for that spot," said Arians, who plans to keep four running backs on the roster.

--Wide receiver Brittan Golden is from west Texas but spends his offseason in Houston, where Hurricane Harvey has wreaked havoc with unprecedented flooding. Water has reached his house, he said, but that's not what concerns him.

"When I'm sitting out here in 110 degrees sunny weather in Arizona are people are sitting on top of their roofs at home just to escape it, it's tough to sit back and watch it," he said.

--Cornerback Justin Bethel knows that being named the starting right cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson wasn't the hard part. It's what's going to happen when the regular season starts and teams keep throwing his way because they'd rather avoid the All-Pro Peterson.

"You call it getting picked on," Bethel said. "I call it a chance to make plays. I'm definitely excited. I think it's going to be a good year. I think it's going to be a good year for the whole secondary."

Peterson said Bethel now has a chance to become an elite defensive back.

"It's all about getting the game experience under his belt, making those plays and grow that confidence in himself," Peterson said. "He's going to have a lot of opportunity. We'll see what he does with it."

--Left guard Mike Iupati (triceps) took part in some conditioning and running but was not a full participant in practice Tuesday when the starters ran 40 plays in up-tempo conditions.

--Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche is still recovering from a calf strain suffered last week, but he is out of a walking boot and coach Bruce Arians said the second-year pro is "doing fine."

--The final position battle of the preseason for the Cardinals will be determined Thursday night after the team's preseason game Thursday night in Denver. That's when coach Bruce Arians will decide which punter he's going to go with -- Matt Wile or Richie Leone, who have been running neck-and-neck.

"It'll come down to this game," Arians said.

The two punters said they're ready. They've each had their ups and down during training camp and in the previous four preseason games. Even though their futures are on the line, they both said they don't plan on treating this game any different than the others.

One of them is going to get cut, but they say that won't be on their minds when they each take their turns punting and kicking against the Broncos.

"I kind of look at it like that's every game. In the NFL, really any game it's cutting time," Wile said. "I kind of look at it as just trying to take the most advantage of every single game and every opportunity I get. This game it's not much different really than any other game. I just have to go out there and catch and snap and punt it and kick kickoffs."
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Titans WRs Decker, Davis return to practice field
August 29, 2017


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Injured wide receivers Eric Decker and Corey Davis were on the practice field Tuesday for the first time in quite a while, doing only individual work.

Decker sprained an ankle two weeks ago against Carolina in a joint practice and Davis, the Titans' first of two first-round picks, has been out since the first week of camp with a hamstring injury.

Titans coach Mike Mularkey was glad to see them back on the practice field, even though their workload probably won't pick up until next week.

"They did good. I was pleased with them," Mularkey said. "That was the plan, to come out here and get limited reps, limited work. I was pretty pleased with them. They both feel good, we'll see how they feel after they've worked a little bit today."

It is unlikely that either would play in the preseason finale Thursday at Kansas City, though Mularkey did not completely rule that out.

The bigger plan is to practice next week in preparation for the season opener Sept. 10 versus the Oakland Raiders.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota said he isn't worried about regaining timing with the receivers. Mariota and Davis (coming off ankle surgery in the spring) missed a good portion of offseason work. Decker didn' sign with the Titans until late June after mini-camp was done.

"It's like riding a bike. You've just got to go through it," Mariota said. "I look forward to getting back to work with those guys and I think we'll be fine."
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Titans playing all in preseason finale
August 30, 2017


KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) First-round draft pick Patrick Mahomes II will trot onto the field inside Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday night for the first time as the starting quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Might be the last time for a while, too.

The Chiefs are planning to rest Alex Smith and the rest of their offensive and defensive starters for their preseason finale against Tennessee. And that means Mahomes, the No. 10 overall selection and presumptive heir apparent, will run onto the field with the rest of the backups for the first series of the game.

''It is another step forward and an opportunity to see how he handles it and to continue to grow,'' Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. ''I think it is a win-win from this standpoint. A chance, right? A chance to get in the game as a starter and put that one under your belt, that you have done it.''

Reid has made it clear that Smith is the starter and Mahomes will be the No. 2 this season, and that barring an injury, the former Texas Tech star will spend a lot of time holding a clipboard. But with the cost of Smith's contract becoming prohibitive next year, Mahomes could be the starter as soon as next season.

That makes the reps he gets in Thursday night's game even more important.

''You prepare hard every single week like you're going to go in and be the starter. This week is going to be special to get that first start under my belt,'' Mahomes said. ''It's a preseason game, but we'll all be treating it like it's a real one. It'll still be an opportunity for a lot of guys to get some reps, and they're going to be going out there and going hard every single play.''

Especially considering the Titans will have their starters on the field, at least at the beginning.

While most teams rest their No. 1 units in anticipation of the regular season, Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey said this week ''all 90'' on the roster will play Thursday night. He believes the benefits of one last dress rehearsal are worth the risk of injuries that comes with the additional game.

''I don't know what the difference between the fourth game and the third game is. There's always that concern,'' Mularkey said. ''You want to go in healthy to that opener, and right now we're pretty healthy. I have a veteran staff, I trust their opinions. We'll talk it through and we'll make some decisions.

''Right now, this is what we did last year,'' he added. ''We got some work done.''

The Chiefs returned most of their roster intact from last season, so there were precious few position battles during training camp. Those that did exist have largely been settled, and that has taken much of the pressure off playing crucial guys in the most meaningless of preseason games.

The Titans, meanwhile, have plenty of spots up for grabs.

First-round pick Adoree Jackson struggled at cornerback last week against Chicago, when he got the start ahead of LeShaun Sims. Those two are competing to start alongside veteran Logan Ryan in the secondary.

Jackson is also in the mix to return kicks, which could impact Eric Weems' status and have a cascading effect on the wide receiver group. The Titans are trying to decide how many wide receivers to keep, and while Weems is a valuable piece on special teams, there are other, more versatile players at his position.

Corey Davis and Rishard Matthews are listed as the starters with Eric Decker in the slot, and rookie Taywan Taylor and Tajae Sharpe appear to have the inside track on jobs. The question becomes whether Weems, Tajae Sharpe or veteran Harry Douglas - or some combination of them - make it through Saturday's cuts.

Speaking of Davis and Decker, both are coming off injuries and are questionable to play Thursday night.

Davis, the fifth overall pick out of Western Michigan, hurt his hamstring the first week of August, while Decker returned to practice Tuesday after hurting his ankle Aug. 17 in a joint practice with Carolina.

''Different coaches have different opinions on how they want to play their guys getting ready for the opener,'' Mularkey said. ''That's the biggest thing, you've got to be ready when that opener turns around.''
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NFL 2017: Titans, Mariota eager to push aside Texans, Colts
August 30, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Tennessee Titans might be the AFC South's most optimistic team thanks to quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Yes, Houston coach Bill O'Brien has picked Tom Savage as his starter with the Texans looking for a third straight division title, and Indianapolis has the always dangerous Andrew Luck - maybe. The Colts are running out of time to activate Luck and his surgically repaired shoulder off the physically unable to perform list.

Jacksonville's gone back to Blake Bortles for lack of a better option after benching him this preseason.

Then there's Mariota, 2015's No. 2 pick overall who had the Titans in control and chasing their first AFC South title since 2008 until breaking his right leg Dec. 24 in a loss at Jacksonville . Now fully recovered, Mariota provides a big confidence boost for a team trying to follow a 9-7 record by knocking off the Texans and Colts in the division they've taken turns dominating.

''We have a great one in Marcus,'' Titans Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo said. ''We're going to let him lead the way.''

Tennessee general manager Jon Robinson, who couldn't fix the entire roster his first offseason, revamped the wide receiving corps and secondary in the latest overhaul.

Now it's up to coach Mike Mularkey to help a young roster take the next step after a six-win improvement last season. Mularkey has five returning Pro Bowlers and venerated coordinator Dick LeBeau coaching the defense in a combination that has the Titans targeting their first playoff berth since Jeff Fisher coached this franchise.

Here are some things to know about the AFC South:

LUCK-LESS COLTS?

The biggest question remains when will Luck be ready to play after surgery in mid- January to repair a partially torn labrum originally hurt in a September 2015 win over Tennessee. The Colts must decide whether to activate Luck or keep him on the PUP list to start the season, a move that would keep the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback out the first six weeks. Even if Luck is on the active roster, Scott Tolzien with three career NFL starts still could start Sept. 10 against the Rams.

''We're not going to put a timetable on it because we will not - will not - put any pressure on this decision,'' Colts owner Jim Irsay said Aug. 13 on deciding Luck's return.

Whoever starts the season at quarterback won't have center Ryan Kelly, out indefinitely after having foot surgery . His possible replacement, Brian Schwenke, only returned to practice Aug. 23 himself.

J.J.'S BACK


The Texans have their three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year back on the field and healthy . J.J. Watt played only three games last season before his second surgery in three months to fix his back. Now the Texans finally can pair Watt with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who blossomed with a career-best six sacks in Watt's absence on a defense that gave up the fewest yards per game in the NFL.

Houston shed Brock Osweiler and his contract in March trying to bolster an offense that tied for 28th with 17.4 points per game. O'Brien has picked Savage, with five career starts, to go behind center despite Deshaun Watson making a good impression . Watson is the quarterback the Texans traded up to No. 12 overall to draft out of Clemson.

MARIOTA'S TARGETS

The Titans had the NFL's third-best rushing offense thanks to Pro Bowl running back DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry last season. So they focused on helping Mariota and the passing game by making Corey Davis of Western Michigan the first wide receiver drafted at No. 5 overall before selecting Taywan Taylor of Western Kentucky and tight end Jonnu Smith in the third round. Tennessee also signed veteran wide receiver Eric Decker in June after he became a salary cap casualty with the Jets. They join Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker and receiver Rishard Matthews.

''We have more options to attack people, and that's what we're always looking for,'' Mularkey said.

MONEY FOR SOMETHING

Tom Coughlin and coach Doug Marrone now are overseeing the latest rebuild for a team with an NFL-worst 17 wins over the past four years. Bortles has been there for three of those seasons, and the Jaguars even picked up his fifth-year option in May. The option is guaranteed only for injury.

The Jaguars want to ease the pressure on Bortles and keep him from throwing as much by running the ball more. They drafted running back Leonard Fournette fourth overall , followed by left tackle Cam Robinson in the second round, trying to fix the offensive line. But all the millions spent on cornerback A.J. Bouye and defensive end Calais Campbell to bolster the defense won't help if Bortles can't cut down the turnovers.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: Titans, Texans, Jaguars, Colts.
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To Be Determined: What NFL teams hope to solve in the next week
August 30, 2017


The days dwindle down to a precious few as all NFL teams except Dallas and Houston will play their preseason finales Thursday night. That will be followed by several manic days in which:

--Rosters will be reduced by 90 to 53 on Saturday, which mathematically translates to 1,961 players no longer on active rosters. Of course, not all will be waived or terminated. That total number includes several players that will begin the season serving suspensions, along with those placed on reserve/injured, reserve/physically unable to perform or reserve/non-football injury.

--One of the most inaccurate words used to describe Saturday's chaos is "final." No, these are hardly "final" cuts. Numerous players will rejoice on Saturday, believing they made the team only to be cut the following day when the team claims someone on waivers.

--Also on Sunday, teams will place players on reserve/injured that have the chance of returning later in the season. Only players that are on the 53-man roster Saturday are eligible to eventually be designated for return.

--Sunday is also the day that teams can begin filling their 10-player practice squads, but none of that can officially occur until players cut Saturday clear waivers.

Having said all that, Thursday night will be an opportunity for some players to make a final push for a roster spot either with the team they are on or being noticeable for other teams.

Additionally, many teams still have competition at positions along with players in the hunt for the final roster spots available.

Following is a team-by-team look from TSX correspondents with an analysis of the issues they hope are resolved Thursday night or in the days leading up to the season opener.

NFC EAST

DALLAS COWBOYS


It appears that undrafted rookie Cooper Rush will win the backup quarterback job behind starter Dak Prescott after a seemingly flawless preseason. Rush has simply outplayed Kellen Moore, the presumed target for the No. 2 job because of his relationship with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. What needs to be determined is whether the Cowboys will keep two or three quarterbacks on the active roster or will they attempt to slide Moore to the practice squad. He still has practice-squad eligibility.

NEW YORK GIANTS

Head coach Ben McAdoo made good on his promise to alter the team's offensive line configuration to "push" underperforming starters such as right guard John Jerry and left tackle Ereck Flowers. The question, though, is will McAdoo stick with the original line configuration that features, from left to right, Flowers, Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, Jerry and Bobby Hart, or will he make any permanent changes? If he does, the biggest change would be at Jerry's right guard position. McAdoo gave third-year man Brett Jones several snaps with the starting offensive line, and the unit looked more cohesive with Jones in there at right guard. As usual, McAdoo was tight-lipped about his personnel plans, but the situation certainly bears watching this coming week as the Giants prepare to wrap up their preseason slate at New England.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

With just one preseason game left, there still is a great deal of uncertainty at the cornerback position. The starters are set: Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills. And rookie third-round pick Rasul Douglas will make the roster, but probably not get much playing time early on. Still up in the air is who will be the team's slot corner. The possibilities: veterans Patrick Robinson and Ron Brooks and former All-CFL player Aaron Grymes. The Eagles also gave safety Jaylen Watkins a ton of snaps at corner last week against the Dolphins, and acquired another corner, Dexter McDougle, from the Jets on Sunday.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

NFC NORTH

CHICAGO BEARS


The biggest pressing issue facing the Bears now may be decided in the fourth preseason game since Cameron Meredith's season-ending ACL tear opens up a starting spot for either Kendall Wright, Victor Cruz or Deonte Thompson. Markus Wheaton would be in that group, as well, but injuries have prevented him from practicing virtually all training camp. Cruz had the job for his taking, but has been mistake-prone, while Wright has looked more dependable in preseason games. It's likely the Bears will be scouring the waiver wire for a proven veteran receiver when cuts occur.

With Prince Amukamara hobbled by an ankle injury and possibly out for the opener, the defense will look closely at cornerbacks in the fourth game to see if either Bryce Callahan or Cre'Von LeBlanc can take away a starting spot from inconsistent veteran Kyle Fuller. The second starting safety spot would appear up for grabs in the final preseason game, with rookie Eddie Jackson needing to prove he can be more physical after missing a tackle on a big gainer in Sunday's win over Tennessee. It's possible Adrian Amos may retain the starting spot if it's determined Jackson hasn't yet progressed enough. Running backs Jeremy Langford and Benny Cunningham could be vying for either more playing time or a roster spot, as well.

DETROIT LIONS

Lions safety Glover Quin guesstimated that three to five roster spots remain up for grabs heading into Thursday's preseason finale against the Buffalo Bills. On offense, the Lions need to decide if they're going to keep four or five wide receivers, and who the fifth receiver is if they do, and whether Cole Wick or Tim Wright merits a spot as the fourth tight end. At wide receiver, TJ Jones seems like the best bet for the No. 4 job. He's played with the first-team offense most of the summer and can handle punt returns if necessary. Jace Billingsley, who plays primarily in the slot like Jones, Jarred Abbrederis and return man Keshawn Martin are vying for the No. 5 receiver job. Billingsley leads the Lions with eight catches for 104 yards this preseason. Defensively, the Lions have a surplus of cornerbacks, with seven worthy of jobs including Quandre Diggs, DJ Hayden and fifth-round pick Jamal Agnew. If the Lions keep all seven corners, they might do so at the expense of an extra linebacker (Steve Longa?) or fifth safety (Charles Washington?).

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Rookie Taysom Hill and second-year man Joe Callahan continue to battle it out for the third-string quarterback job. And Green Bay's fourth and final preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams Thursday will go a long way toward determining a winner.

Callahan, an undrafted free agent in 2016, was on the roster as the Packers' third quarterback for eight games last year. Callahan was one of the stars of Green Bay's training camp last year, but has a 72.9 passer rating this summer.

Hill is the better athlete and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds. Hill also has more arm strength than Callahan and has a 105.7 passer rating this summer.

Neither player saw any action in the third preseason game, but both are expected to play a great deal Thursday.

"They'll play. Yeah, they're going to play this week," head coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. "So, I just would like to hopefully get these two quarterbacks just plays. They need to play."

For the majority of McCarthy's 11 years in Green Bay, there have been just two quarterbacks on the roster. But the Packers kept three last year, and appear to be leaning in that direction again.

"When you keep a third quarterback, he has to earn it," McCarthy said. "It's really about the 53-man roster. I'd like to have four quarterbacks here in the building at all times. That would be the preference. But that 51, 52, 53, wherever that third quarterback would fall in your thinking, those are positions that need to be earned."

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

The Vikings are still grappling with the leap of faith it would take to replace incumbent kicker Kai Forbath with the younger, stronger-legged and completely inexperienced Marshall Koehn. Koehn is the better kickoff guy and extends the field-goal range significantly. In Sunday night's 32-31 win over the 49ers, Koehn slammed a 58-yarder with room to spare. But he also was wide right from 47 yards. He has no regular-season NFL experience, so choosing him over Forbath is a risky move. Forbath stabilized the position last season after Blair Walsh's continuing mental meltdown forced the Vikings to cut him. Forbath came in and didn't miss a field goal the entire season. In a sign the Vikings are seriously considering keeping Koehn, they gave him all the kicking duties against the 49ers. Besides going 1 for 2 on field goals, he made all three extra points.

NFC SOUTH

ATLANTA FALCONS

With Falcons linebacker LaRoy Reynolds out with a chest injury, rookie Duke Riley appears to have a shot at the starting weak-side linebacker spot. "We've been very encouraged by where he's at, at this point," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. "We see him taking on a big role for us at this linebacker spot." Riley was selected in the third round (75th overall) of this year's draft out of LSU. He played 32 snaps on defense in the 24-14 loss to the Cardinals and spent some time with the first unit. He had two tackles, a tackle for a loss and a fumble recovery.

"This week we felt that Duke made a really big jump," Quinn said. "It started back in practice in terms of the speed (and) the physicality that showed him playing even more downhill."

CAROLINA PANTHERS

The Panthers are feeling good about the mix along the defensive front, but the quantity of snaps that will be divvied up among the veterans and younger players might need some attention. With veterans such as defensive ends Julius Peppers and Charles Johnson in the same position on the left side, it figures they'll largely split time. But the younger players have been more active in the preseason, and that has been by design, but it remains unclear if the extra repetitions have made a positive impression on the coaching staff.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Time is running out for Corey Fuller to snatch one of the final two wide-receiver spots from either Tommylee Lewis or Brandon Coleman. Bryce Harris has passed up Khalif Barnes in the competition to be the backup tackle. The last defensive tackle spot is a battle between Darryl Tapp and Tony McDaniel. Former No. 1 draft choice Stephone Anthony (2015) is in danger of being released as he tries to edge out Adam Bighill for the last linebacker spot. Bighill has made big plays in each of the last two preseason games while Anthony has been sidelined by an undisclosed injury. The last offensive line spot could go to John Fullington or Landon Turner.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Bucs linebacker Riley Bullough has been a tackling machine and the undrafted rookie was called out by head coach Dirk Koetter early in training camp for his leadership. But the Bucs are very deep at linebacker and Bullough may not earn a spot on the 53-man roster. Kwon Alexander, Lavonte David, Kendell Beckwith and Adarius Glanton are virtual locks. The Bucs also have second-year pro Devante Bond, who has been injured. If he is healthy, Bullough is probably out. He also has to beat out Cameron Lynch. If he were cut and cleared waivers, the Bucs would likely try to sign him to their practice squad.

NFC WEST

ARIZONA CARDINALS


Two lost fumbles during Saturday's preseason game at the Falcons have made the Cardinals think about hitting the reset button on veteran running back Chris Johnson. After back-to-back years of early season-ending injuries and some internal concerns as to whether the speed is still there, the turnovers now make it impossible to guarantee him a spot on the 53-man roster and in the four-person running back room. It's clear Kerwynn Williams has moved up to No. 2 on the depth chart behind David Johnson, leaving Chris Johnson to have to beat out Andre Ellington, Elijhaa Penny and/or rookie James Summers to win one of the final spots. And on that topic, here's what head coach Bruce Arians had to say on Monday: "It's going to be a tough decision for that spot."

LOS ANGELES RAMS

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS


C.J. Beathard vs. Matt Barkley for backup quarterback. Several roster spots will be up for grabs when the 49ers finish the preseason Thursday night against the Los Angeles Chargers. The highest profile of the openings is at quarterback, where the rookie Beathard is challenging the veteran Barkley for the spot behind starter Brian Hoyer. Both are expected to play against the Chargers.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Trying to figure out who to keep at the wide receiver position will be a massive chore for the Seahawks following the final preseason game. While Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson and Jermaine Kearse all appear to be locks for the roster, the battle for the remaining two or three spots remains heated. Kasen Williams leads the team in receiving this preseason. J.D. McKissic can contribute as a receiver, running back and kick returner. Tanner McEvoy has the most size of any receiver on the roster and third-round pick Amara Darboh continues to draw praise, though he's lacked for opportunities in games.

AFC EAST

BUFFALO BILLS

The Bills are hoping, perhaps praying, that left tackle Cordy Glenn will be able to return in time for the season opener. He has missed virtually the entire offseason, training camp and preseason due to a lingering foot injury, and with Seantrel Henderson not available for the first five games due to a substance abuse suspension, the team has a serious dilemma if Glenn isn't ready. Saturday in Baltimore, rookie second-round pick Dion Dawkins started at left tackle - he'd been working mostly at right tackle in camp - and he played 48 snaps and held his own. Dawkins is being counted on to someday start at right tackle, but at least he showed that he could flip over to the left side if need be.

MIAMI DOLPHINS


The Dolphins are hoping newly-signed middle linebacker Rey Maualuga can shed 10 pounds or so, get in shape and begin practicing this week. But right now head coach Adam Gase isn't certain that will happen, and he's not certain Maualuga, who has been inactive for five months, will be ready for the Sept. 10 opener against Tampa Bay.

Miami, which was 30th in run defense last year, drafted MLB Raekwon McMillan in the second round but he sustained a season-ending knee injury in the preseason opener against Atlanta, and backup Mike Hull has been inadequate.

The left-guard position isn't as much of a concern, but Miami would like to get it settled among Anthony Steen, Jesse Davis and Jake Brendel.

As for the run defense, part of that has to do with the middle linebacker vacancy, and part of that has to do with hoping upgrades such as SLB Lawrence Timmons, veteran DE William Hayes and rookie DT Davon Godchaux make them better.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

The biggest question facing the Patriots is how the team will move on offensively without wide receiver Julian Edelman in his reliable role in the slot. But that won't be figured out in the final preseason game or likely even by the time the season kicks off Sept. 7 against the Chiefs. What will be determined between now are the bottom-of-the-roster decisions that head coach Bill Belichick and his staff must make heading toward the cuts to 53 players. Spots such as backup swing tackle and the roster spots at cornerback, safety, tight end, linebacker and running back are all up for grabs. Guys like third-year former second-round safety Jordan Richards and second-year former second-round cornerback Cyrus Jones are fighting for their roster lives. The bulk of the starting roles and roster spots are locked down at this point, but there are still a few guys who could play themselves onto or off of the roster in the coming days.

NEW YORK JETS

Center and right tackle. Even with the quarterback quagmire finally settled, there are no shortage of jobs to be won with the Jets. It appeared as if the Jets had a decent replacement for future Ring of Honor inductee Nick Mangold in center Wesley Johnson, as well as a possible building block in second-year right tackle Brandon Shell. But both have struggled this preseason, which may have opened the door for Jonotthan Harrison and/or Ben Ijalana to win the Week 1-job(s).

AFC NORTH

BALTIMORE RAVENS


The Ravens have been forced to shuffle the offensive line throughout the preseason because of injuries and the sudden retirement of John Urschel. With the exception of Alex Lewis and rookie Nico Siragusa, who are both out for the season, the offensive line should have most of the players back for the regular-season opener Sept. 10 against the Cincinnati Bengals. The biggest question is whether Ryan Jensen or Jeremy Zuttah will start at center. Baltimore also must decide whether to keep another running back in addition to Terrance West, Danny Woodhead and Buck Allen. At this point, it appears undrafted rookie Taquan Mizzell is headed to the practice squad. Head coach John Harbaugh has used defensive lineman Patrick Ricard at fullback, which does not bode well for Lorenzo Taliaferro or Ricky Ortiz making the final roster. Finally, Lardarius Webb appears poised to take over the starting spot at slot cornerback, but he is being pushed by undrafted rookie Jaylen Hill, who could still play his way into that job. Receiver/returner Keenan Reynolds also is fighting for one of the final roster spots and might need a big game against the Saints to make the team.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

The field-goal kicking competition likely will drag into the final week of the preseason, as predicted by head coach Marvin Lewis. In Sunday's preseason loss to the Redskins, Randy Bullock distinguished himself with a 53-yard field goal on his only attempt, making him 5-for-5 in the preseason. Rookie Jake Elliott went wide right on a 45-yard attempt. It was the first miss by either kicker in the preseason. Elliott is 3-for-4.

Typically, the Bengals would carry six receivers into the regular season, but that might change this year, particularly with rookie John Ross now healthy and rookie Josh Malone having a standout preseason. The question is, if the Bengals go with seven wideouts, which position loses out - defensive line, offensive line or running back?

CLEVELAND BROWNS

The kicking job is going down to the final preseason game on Thursday in Chicago. Incumbent Cody Parkey kicked field goals of 38 and 47 yards against the Buccaneers. In between those two kicks, rookie Zane Gonzalez missed from 55, but Gonzalez made the only field goal of the first two games. Both have hit booming kickoffs and competition in practice has been close. "I don't know if anybody has taken the lead," head coach Hue Jackson said on Sunday. "That thing is really close. We feel good about both of the players and it's going to come down to the wire. Both have done a tremendous job. We're going to look at that very closely this week as we go through this game on Thursday."

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Head coach Mike Tomlin made it known last week that incumbent starter Ross Cockrell and free agent Coty Sensabaugh would compete for the starting job at right cornerback over the remainder of camp. Cockrell started the third preseason game against the Colts, but he alternated with Sensabaugh every other series. It was another rough game for Cockrell, who allowed a 32-yard pass a week after giving up a 44-yard completion. Tomlin said after the game the competition will continue this week, but Sensabaugh seems to be trending upward and Cockrell downward entering the final preseason game at Carolina.

AFC SOUTH

HOUSTON TEXANS

Who will be the starting tackles? Kendall Lamm is the front-runner at left tackle with Duane Brown still holding out, but Chris Clark is hurt. Breno Giacomini could start at right tackle. The Texans need Brown back, but the three-time Pro-Bowl blocker is in a contract dispute with the team and is on the reserve/did not report list.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS


Who will start at quarterback against Los Angeles on Sept. 10? While head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Chris Ballard have yet to officially rule out Andrew Luck from the Rams game, or to say how many regular-season games they expect Luck to miss, it looks like Scott Tolzien will be the starter to begin the season. Tolzien, signed as a free agent from Green Bay prior to the 2016 season, has worked with the No. 1 offense throughout OTAs, minicamp, training camp and the preseason. And while he has been inconsistent during the preseason schedule, he did have a good performance in the team's win at Pittsburgh Saturday night. Stephen Morris had slipped to the No. 3 role behind undrafted rookie Phillip Walker early in the preseason but moved to No. 2 for the Pittsburgh game. Morris doesn't have a lot of regular-season game experience, but he has been the most consistent quarterback in training camp and the preseason.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Who will be Jacksonville's starting guards for the regular-season opener in Houston on Sept.10? The Jaguars thought they had the answer in Patrick Omameh at left guard and A.J. Cann on the right side. Both players started the team's first two preseason games. But Omameh played poorly in the second game against Tampa Bay, re-opening the door for others to compete for the starting spot. Luke Bowanko won out and started against Carolina, but didn't play particularly well and alternated with Omameh at that spot. Cann may have a battle to save his starting spot after a poor showing in the Carolina game in which he was cited for three penalties and didn't block particularly well. One new consideration Jaguars coaches will explore this week is moving starting center Brandon Linder (easily the team's best offensive lineman) to one of the guard spots and insert Bowanko at center, a position that Bowanko started at for 14 games in his rookie season in 2014. Another possibility, and likely to happen, the Jaguars may look for a released veteran guard when NFL teams make their 53-man roster cuts next weekend.

TENNESSEE TITANS

The Titans are still rotating several players in the middle of their defensive line trying to find a starting nose tackle. Free agent Sylvester Williams was signed to play the role, but he has been getting serious competition from undrafted second-year player Antwaun Woods, who got into one game a year ago after being elevated from the practice squad. Then, on Sunday, the Titans shifted end DaQuan Jones into the middle and put Austin Johnson in Jones' end spot on the line. It will be interesting to see how things shake out and whether this is a motivational ploy to fire up Williams, or if Woods and/or Jones can wrest the job away from the veteran offseason pickup.

AFC WEST

DENVER BRONCOS

The Broncos still haven't settled on a starting left guard -- and might not finalize that position until sometime in the regular season. Head coach Vance Joseph said that he might use both Max Garcia and Allen Barbre into the regular season. Garcia had an up-and-down performance against the Packers; he had a key block on C.J. Anderson's 16-yard touchdown run, but also got beaten for a pressure that could have led to a massive hit on quarterback Trevor Siemian if running back Jamaal Charles had not stepped in with a quick pickup of the rush.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

All of the starting jobs appeared locked down for Kansas City, but some difficult cuts remain on the horizon, particularly on defense. The most competitive position group remains at inside linebacker, where the Chiefs carry four players who earned starts for the team last season. The club also used a fifth-round selection on Ukeme Eligwe, re-signed veteran Josh Mauga and acquired Kevin Pierre-Louis via a trade. Derrick Johnson and Ramik Wilson have started all three preseason games. Justin March-Lillard and Terrance Smith played exclusively on special teams in preaseason Week 3 against Seattle. The Chiefs also have tight battles at wide receiver and cornerback. Demarcus Robinson and Seantavius Jones appear to have the upper hand at receiver, but undrafted rookies Marcus Kemp and Gehrig Dieter continue charging. The Chiefs may face a tough decision at cornerback with veterans Kenneth Acker, D.J. White and De'Vante Bausby in the mix for the final spots.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Would the Chargers really go into a season with a backup known as a project over a 12-year veteran? That's likely to be figured out on Thursday night, when youngster Cardale Jones has one last chance to wrestle the No. 2 quarterback role away from Kellen Clemens. It would appear Clemens would be the favorite between the two players, and that might still be the case. Clemens is in his fourth year with the Chargers and has won elsewhere as a starter. But he's also 34 years old, and with Philip Rivers turning 36 before the season ends, the Chargers have to address their quarterback situation for the future at some point. But does that future include Jones? Especially with him being a late addition to the team and having about a month to learn the offense? Hard to say, but what isn't is that head coach Anthony Lynn, who was with Jones in Buffalo last year, remains intrigued by Jones' upside. The final question is whether Lynn might be compelled to keep three quarterbacks, even though Rivers has been remarkably durable during his long career.

OAKLAND RAIDERS

EJ Manuel has lost ground to Connor Cook in the battle to be the backup quarterback to Derek Carr. In his last two games, Manuel is 5-for-13 for 20 yards and hasn't looked like the smooth operator he was earlier in training camp. Cook, on the other hand, got the Raiders in the end zone against the Rams and engineered a drive to inside the Dallas 10 when time ran out in the third preseason game. Their play Thursday night against Seattle could determine the winner.
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Report: LB Brooks agrees to terms with Packers
August 30, 2017


Free-agent linebacker Ahmad Brooks has agreed to a one-year deal with the Green Bay Packers, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported Wednesday.

The deal for the 33-year-old Brooks could be worth up to $5 million, according to the report.

The Packers are in need of an experienced linebacker as Julius Peppers left the team in free agency, and Clay Matthews exited early in Saturday's game with an unspecified injury.

Nick Perry and Jayrone Elliott have missed practice time with injuries, and fourth-round rookie Vince Biegel also has health issues and may be headed for the physically unable to perform list.

Brooks, a Pro Bowl selection in 2013, was a starter each of the past six seasons for the San Francisco 49ers. He had six sacks last year and has 53.5 for his career.

He was released last week by the 49ers, who are going with younger players and switched from a 3-4 defense last season to a 4-3 scheme under new coach Kyle Shanahan.

Packers outside linebackers coach Winston Moss likes what he sees in Brooks.

"Tough. Tough. Physically imposing," Moss told ESPN.com before the deal was finalized. "A rusher. Can play very, very well versus the run. Can play stout versus the tight end. He can do everything that we would ask him to do in our scheme. He can play to the tight-end side; he can play to the open-end side. He can play the outside linebacker; he can play the elephant.

"If he were to be placed on our roster -- however that decision goes down -- he could come right in and fit right in."
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NFL notebook: Texans-Cowboys preseason game canceled
August 30, 2017


Thursday night's preseason game between the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium was canceled by the NFL on Wednesday to allow Texans players to return home to be reunited with their families after the catastrophic flooding in Houston.

The decision comes days after the game was moved from Houston's NRG Stadium to the Cowboys' stadium Arlington because of the massive flooding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

The cancellation gives Texans players the opportunity to return to Houston sometime Wednesday.

Texans general manager Rick Smith later said the Week 1 game on Sept. 10 against the Jacksonville Jaguars will be played as scheduled at NRG Stadium.

Hurricane Harvey hit Texas hard with some areas of Houston getting a record-setting 51 inches of rain. At least 10,000 people have been rescued from their homes with the death toll climbing to at least 30.

--Joe Haden capped a whirlwind day by signing a three-year, $27 million contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers, jumping from the AFC North cellar to the defending division champions in the span of a 9-to-5 day on the East Coast.

Haden was released by the Cleveland Browns on Wednesday morning. But before the dinner hour arrived, Haden was signing with the Steelers, where he becomes the No. 1 cornerback on a defense that finished last season strong.

--The five-game suspension that was levied against Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict has been reduced to three games, the NFL announced.

Burfict's suspension resulted when he made an illegal hit against Kansas City Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman in a preseason game earlier this month.

James Thrash, a former NFL wide receiver, presided over the appeal.

--Oakland Raiders wide receiver Seth Roberts signed a two-year contract extension through the 2019 season, the team announced.

Financial terms were not disclosed by the team, although Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported the deal -- which includes the 2017 season -- is worth $12 million with $6.45 million guaranteed.

Roberts, who was due to become a restricted free agent after this season, set a career high with 38 receptions for 397 yards and five touchdowns in 2016.

--Free-agent linebacker Ahmad Brooks has agreed to a one-year deal with the Green Bay Packers, Rapoport reported Wednesday.

The deal for the 33-year-old Brooks could be worth up to $5 million, according to the report.

Brooks was released last week by the San Francisco 49ers.

--Offensive lineman Cam Erving was traded by the Browns to the Kansas City Chiefs for a fifth-round pick.

The 19th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Erving has 17 career starts in 29 games and can play center, guard or tackle.

Erving had been nursing a calf injury in training camp.

--The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed injured quarterback Ryan Griffin to a one-year contract extension through the 2018 season.

Terms of the deal were not released, but Griffin is expected to adjust his $1.798-million salary he was to earn in 2017 in exchange for returning for another season, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

--Former NFL quarterback Johnny Manziel worked out last week for a Canadian Football League team.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats put Manziel through a series of workouts in Buffalo, N.Y., over two days but the organization decided there were "too many red flags" to sign him now, according to a report from TSN and confirmed by ESPN.

--The Atlanta Falcons began the process of moving from 90 players to the 53-man roster, reaching an injury settlement with offensive tackle Kevin Graf and waiving four more.

Wide receiver Reginald Davis III, tackle Wil Freeman and safeties Jordan Moore and Deron Washington were waived.
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NFL 2017: Falcons NFC South Rivals to challenge for division
August 30, 2017


Before the Atlanta Falcons can think about Super Bowl redemption, they'll have to contend with an NFC South Division that could be dangerous to overlook.

A Carolina team that was in the Super Bowl just two seasons ago aims to bounce back from an injury-filled 2016. A young, talented Tampa Bay Buccaneers team looks primed to end a long playoff draught.

And in New Orleans, there is urgency to climb out of a three-year rut of sub-.500 play in what is currently 38-year-old, record-setting quarterback Drew Brees' last season under contract.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn has gone out of his way to hush any Super Bowl talk - not because he doesn't want to revisit the pain of his team's collapse against New England , but because he wants his players focused on what he views as the considerable challenge of staying on top of their division.

''That's where the mindset has to be to get where you want to go,'' Quinn said. ''We know if you would look past these other three (NFC South teams), that would be a mistake, knowing the toughness these three groups play with on well-coached teams.''

For Quinn, a former defensive coordinator for Seattle's 2013 title team, a key characteristic of the division is exceptional play by quarterbacks with varying strengths. He has his own prolific QB in Matt Ryan, a conventional pocket passer with a 6-foot-4 frame and accurate arm.

The Saints, of course, have benefited from Brees' extraordinary timing and accuracy for more than a decade, including five 5,000-yard seasons passing (and another with 4,952).

Carolina has a true dual-threat QB in Cam Newton. The Bucs have the up-and-coming Jameis Winston, who prefers to stay behind the line of scrimmage, but has the mobility to escape collapsing pockets and give himself more time to throw.

For Atlanta, re-conquering the division will mean contending with ''the uniqueness of what Carolina does, the uniqueness of what New Orleans does, the uniqueness of what Tampa does and the way they feature the players in their systems,'' Quinn said.

Brees has been around the NFC South long enough to see how hard it has been to stay on top.

Since the division was created by NFL realignment in 2002, Carolina is the only repeat winner with a three-year run from 2013-15.

''We know that every team in our division is going to be somebody to contend with,'' Brees said.

Here are some other story lines in the NFC South:

STEVE'S SYSTEM


The Falcons had to find a new offensive coordinator when Kyle Shanahan left to take over as San Francisco's head coach. Atlanta decided to fill the void with Steve Sarkisian , who was briefly Alabama's offensive coordinator when the Crimson Tide lost the national title game to Clemson.

Sarkisian was a stopgap measure when the Crimson Tide sent Lane Kiffin packing. Now Sarkisian is back in the NFL for the first time since serving as Oakland's QB coach in 2004.

KEEPING CAM CLEAN

Last season, Newton followed up a 2015 MVP campaign with the worst statistical season (19 TDs, 14 INTs) of his career. He struggled behind an offensive line beset with injuries and played the final month of the season with a partially torn rotator cuff that required offseason surgery.

''I can't let 2016 happen again,'' Newton said.

To help, Carolina signed free agent left tackle Matt Kalil and drafted right tackle Taylor Moton in the second round. They also added two versatile weapons on offense with their first two draft picks - running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver Curtis Samuel.

RISING EXPECTATIONS: The Bucs haven't made the playoffs since 2007 and haven't won a postseason game since the team's Super Bowl run 15 years ago. But with Jameis Winston entering his third season, pressure is mounting to change that.

The team added playmakers on offense: receiver DeSean Jackson in free agency and tight end O.J. Howard in the draft. Coach Dirk Koetter is counting on the defense being better, too, following the addition of end Chris Baker and safeties J.J. Wilcox and Justin Evans.

Winston led the Bucs to their first winning record in six years last season and has topped 4,000 yards passing in each of his first two seasons. Doug Martin, the NFL's second-leading rusher in 2015, also is set to return in Week 4 from a drug suspension .

HELPING BREES

The Saints brought in 10-year veteran Adrian Peterson hoping he still has some exceptional football left after missing most of last season with a knee injury. They also hope he can catch the ball and will thrive in coach Sean Payton's inventive formations.

New Orleans also used two of its top three draft picks in an effort to improve a secondary that ranked last against the pass last season. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore was the club's top pick and safety Marcus Williams was taken in the second round.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

Falcons, Panthers, Buccaneers, Saints.
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AP source: Cut by Browns, Haden nears deal with Steelers
August 30, 2017


PITTSBURGH (AP) Joe Haden needed a job, a change of scenery and a chance at a Super Bowl.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were more than happy to give the longtime Cleveland Browns cornerback a shot at all three.

The Steelers signed Haden to a three-year contract on Wednesday night just hours after the Browns granted Haden his release.

Haden, a two-time Pro Bowler, gives the defending AFC North champions an upgrade in the secondary in their bid to chase down Super Bowl champion New England.

Haden's deal has a total value of $27 million said a person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because financial details were not released. Initial talks between Pittsburgh and Haden were first reported by ESPN.

The Browns cut Haden earlier Wednesday, breaking ties with one of the few fixtures for a franchise that has spent the entirety of Haden's seven-year career rebuilding and then rebuilding some more.

They don't do that in Pittsburgh. The Steelers reached the AFC title game in January only to get blown out by the Patriots, with Tom Brady throwing for 383 yards and three touchdowns.

Pittsburgh made taking a more aggressive approach a top priority and Haden is eager to prove he's still an elite defender after two subpar seasons marred by injury.

The former first-round draft pick has 19 interceptions in seven seasons, but has been limited to just 18 games the past two years. Haden's signing adds spice to the season opener between the Browns and Steelers on Sept. 10.

This is the second straight season the Steelers have taken on a former Browns defender late in training camp. Pittsburgh sent a sixth-round pick in the 2018 draft to Cleveland last August for former first-round pick Justin Gilbert. Gilbert never earned a starting spot, played in just 12 games and was released the day after the Super Bowl.

The expectations will be considerably higher for Haden, who will get a shot to line up opposite Artie Burns.

Ross Cockrell and Coty Sensabaugh have spent much of training camp vying for a starting spot, but both could take on lesser roles or perhaps even be out of a job entirely depending on what direction the Steelers want to go in when rosters are trimmed to 53 on Saturday.

The Steelers took cornerback Cam Sutton in the third round of the draft and also have veteran William Gay and Mike Hilton in the mix, among others.

Pittsburgh went 11-5 last season despite a middling performance against the pass. The Steelers finished 16th in yards passing allowed, 15th in interceptions and ninth in sacks, rankings they have said repeatedly during training camp need to improve if they want any chance at catching up with the Patriots.

If Haden can recapture some of the form he displayed in 2013 and 2014, the Steelers could inch closer to ending New England's vice grip on AFC supremacy.
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Thursday’s six-pack

— Johnny Manziel worked out for the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but he showed up out of shape; they don’t think he is ready to play ball, mentally or physically.

— Browns cut CB Joe Haden, a 7-year veteran; he then got three years, $27M from the Steelers.

— Atlanta 3B Brandon Phillips got his 2,000th career hit Wednesday.

— Florida Atlantic opened as a 14.5-point underdog vs Navy; they’ve been bet down to +9. Navy’s OC is ill, and people are jumping on the Lane Kiffin bandwagon.

— Mariners acquired P Mike Leake from the Cardinals; he has $55M left on his contract.

— Cowboys-Texans preseason game scheduled for tonite was cancelled, so the Houston players could go home and assess the damage to their homes.

*************************

Thursday’s List of 13: Nobody asked me, but…….

13) All-time record for consecutive scoreless innings:
48— Chicago Cubs, 1968
45— Cincinnati Reds, 1931
45— Kansas City Royals, 2017

12) As of Tuesday night’s results, Joey Votto had 27 walks in his last 18 games; time for the Reds to at least consider batting him leadoff.

Votto’s on-base %age: .449
Billy Hamilton’s on-base %age: .298

11) In 2015, the state of California collected $258.1M in taxes from pro athletes.

10) The major league record for home runs in a season by someone who wasn’t in the majors before August 1? 13, by Ted Williams in 1953.

Phillies’ rookie Rhys Hoskins has 11 homers; his first big league game was August 10.

9) To win $100 at the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, all a bettor has to do is put up $100,000 on the Golden State Warriors making the NBA playoffs this coming season. A $100 bet on Golden State to miss the playoffs pays $10,100.

I could be wrong, but I would advise against putting up $100,000 to win $100.

8) Cedar Bayou, TX had 51.88 inches of rain from Hurricane Harvey, the most rainfall ever on the continental United States. Thats over four feet of rain!!!!

7) Dolphins’ DT Ndamukong Suh played youth soccer as a kid in Oregon— one of his teammates was Klay Thompson. Apparently Suh is now the Miami Dolphins’ backup kicker, should anything happen to starting kicker Andrew Franks, who went to D-III RPI, which is across the river from me in beautiful downtown Troy, NY.

RPI is better known for its Division I hockey program. And its engineering program.

6) How come no one bats the pitcher 8th this year? Because it was never a good idea, just something Tony Larussa/Joe Maddon did, so other teams blindly copied it.

5) Former LSU coach Les Miles, one of my favorites, will be a game analyst for FOX Sports this fall. Miles live-tweeted the Floyd Mayweather fight Saturday night- he could be television gold.

4) Major league record for most games started by a pitcher without ever appearing in relief:
682, Tom Glavine
379, Justin Verlander
372, Felix Hernandez
240, Juan Guzman

3) According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle last week, the book Moneyball is required reading at most business schools across the country.

Wonder if they’ll study the part where the A’s trade their best pitcher (who has an affordable contract) for three players, two of whom are currently incapacitated, and a third guy who is in AA. (he is hitting .269 in the Texas League right now).

To paraphrase Rick Pitino, Brad Pitt isn’t walking thru that door anytime soon. Moneyball 2 ain’t gonna happen, not while the A’s flounder year after year.

2) First-round matchups for the Puerto Rico tip-off tournament this fall:
South Carolina-Illinois State, Boise State-UTEP, Iowa State-Appalachian State, Tulsa-Western Michigan. Pretty good tournament.

1) Astros are coming home to Houston this weekend; Friday’s game with the Mets was postponed to a day/night doubleheader on Saturday, with a day game on Sunday.
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THURSDAY, AUGUST 31

GAME TIME(ET) PICK UNITS

LAR at GB 07:00 PM

GB -3.5

O 38.0


JAC at ATL 07:00 PM

ATL -3.0

O 37.0


PHI at NYJ 07:00 PM

PHI +1.5

U 35.5


CIN at IND 07:00 PM

CIN +2.5

U 36.5


DET at BUF 07:00 PM

DET -3.5

U 35.5


PIT at CAR 07:30 PM

CAR -4.0

U 37.5


WAS at TB 07:30 PM

TB -2.5

U 36.5


NYG at NE 07:30 PM

NE -2.5

U 37.5


BAL at NO 08:00 PM

NO -3.0

U 37.5


MIA at MIN 08:00 PM

MIA +3.0

U 37.5


CLE at CHI 08:00 PM

CHI -3.0

U 36.5


TEN at KC 08:30 PM

TEN +3.0

O 37.5


ARI at DEN 09:00 PM

ARI +2.5

U 36.0


SEA at OAK 10:00 PM

OAK +2.5

U 40.5


LAC at SF 10:00 PM

LAC +3.5

U 38.0
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