Falcons wary of defending Saints’ ‘maestro’ Drew Brees

ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons may be a step ahead of the New Orleans Saints in the search for balance on offense.

That’s not enough to make Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel rest easy. The Saints have Drew Brees, and the veteran quarterback’s guile is enough to make any defensive coach lose sleep.

Brees and the Saints (1-1) will try to establish more offensive balance when they visit the Falcons (1-2) on Sunday in an early test of NFC South rivals attempting to build off Week 2 wins.

The Saints have relied heavily on the one-two punch of wide receiver Michael Thomas, whose 28 catches set an NFL record for the first two games of a season, and running back Alvin Kamara, who has 15 catches. New Orleans is last in the league with only 52.5 yards rushing per game.

“That’s definitely something that we recognize and we always talk about balance,” Brees said Wednesday. “We want balance.”

Coach Sean Payton said he saw signs of an improved running attack in the second half of last week’s 21-18 win over Cleveland .

“Certainly Alvin and Mike are guys we want to get the ball to, and yet we recognize the importance of having that balance,” Payton said.

Brees, 39, has completed 81.3 percent of his passes (65 of 80) for 682 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.

“He’s a maestro now,” said Manuel, who defended against Brees as a defensive back with six teams before coaching against the quarterback. “He was a magician before when he was dinking and dunking and hitting guys. Now he’s a maestro.”

Matt Ryan and the Falcons found more balance in last week’s 31-24 win over Carolina . Despite playing without running back Devonta Freeman, who could also miss Sunday’s game with a sore right knee, the Falcons ran for 170 yards. Fill-in starter Tevin Coleman ran for 107 yards.

Here are some things to know from the Saints-Falcons game:

PASS PATTERN: Payton is confident Brees will spread the ball around more and said he wants to see third-round draft choice Tre’Quan Smith more involved. “We have to find ways to get him more touches,” Payton said. “He is handling our installation. He knows what we are doing game-plan wise and I think he is ready to prove that.”

APOLOGY: Falcons safety Damontae Kazee apologized this week after his ejection for last week’s hit to the helmet of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Kazee was making only his second career start.

“I’ve got to learn to try to keep my head up when I tackle,” Kazee said. “It’s a new rule now and I’ve got to adjust to that.”

Kazee said he must learn “when to take my shot and when not to take my shot. He was sliding and I tried to lean over to the left and hit him with my facemask. I apologize for the hit.”

RECEPTIONS FOR ALL: Ryan completed passes to eight receivers last week instead of relying heavily on Julio Jones. In one possession late in the first half, he completed six straight passes to five receivers, none to Jones. “I feel like as a quarterback you’re just trying to make the right decision, go to the right spot with the football and trust whoever is in that spot to make those plays,” Ryan said Wednesday. “That’s just how it shook out in that game.”

NO RUNNING: The Saints’ running game ranked fifth during their run to the NFC South title last season. They rank 31st this year with only 2.9 yards per rush. The absence of Mark Ingram, who has served half of his four-game suspension for use of a banned substance, gets some of the blame.

Payton has said there is no evidence of a “crisis.” New Orleans has played from behind for much of its first two games, causing Payton to call more passing plays. Payton said a couple Kamara runs during fourth-quarter scoring drives last week showed potential for success on the ground.

INJURY WOES: The Falcons already have been hit hard by injuries , especially on defense where safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones are on injured reserve. Coach Dan Quinn hopes Jones, who must miss at least eight games, can return this season. Defensive ends Takk McKinley and Derrick Shelby missed practice this week with groin injuries. Jones also missed time with a calf injury.

Also, left guard Andy Levitre was placed on IR with a triceps injury. Wes Schweitzer, who filled in for Levitre last week, is expected to start.


AP Sports Writer Brett Martel contributed to this report.


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Pittsburgh Steelers training camp primer

Pittsburgh Steelers training camp primer

New faces: CB Steven Nelson,

Pittsburgh Steelers training camp primer

New faces: CB Steven Nelson, LB Mark Barron, LB Devin Bush, WR Donte Moncrief, WR Diontae Johnson, CB Justin Layne, RB Benny Snell

They’re gone: WR Antonio Brown, RB Le’Veon Bell, OT Marcus Gilbert, TE Jesse James, S Morgan Burnett, LB Jon Bostic

2019 snapshot: There’s no getting around it: The Steelers said goodbye to perhaps the best wide receiver (Brown) and the best running back (Bell) of the past five years. That’s difficult to swallow, but was there anything Pittsburgh could have done differently this offseason?

Bell’s departure was inevitable long ago. Letting him walk also wasn’t the worst idea given the dangers of paying running backs big money. Perhaps Brown’s situation could have been resolved, but the disgruntled wideout appeared determined to barge his way out of Pittsburgh, with no regard for collateral damage. How ugly would it be if he were still on the Steelers’ roster?

Pittsburgh never had the leverage to bring back a big return, but it did get two picks for Brown, one of whom (Johnson) should contribute early. The Steelers found another option at receiver in free agency (Moncrief) and worked to upgrade at linebacker and cornerback in both free agency and the draft. After signing Barron and Nelson, they traded up for Bush, who should step right into Ryan Shazier’s old spot in the middle of the defense. Layne brings lots of talent but has time to develop from the bench.

Pittsburgh also got quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s extension done as he approached a contract year, an inevitable but important move that ensures the Super Bowl window will remain open another few years.

Worth the investment?

At 9.5 wins via PointsBet.com, the Steelers are still expected to be in the mix in the AFC North. How realistic is that future proposition based on the subtractions from the roster? Getting to 8-8 seems a reasonable ask, but 10 wins would be a major achievement for Mike Tomlin’s crew.

Bottom Line: No team in the league lost two more talented players, and Brown and Bell defined Pittsburgh’s offseason, but much of it was out of the Steelers’ hands.

–Field Level Media

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Cleveland Browns training camp primer

Cleveland Browns training camp primer

New faces: WR Odell Beckham Jr., DT Sheldon

Cleveland Browns training camp primer

New faces: WR Odell Beckham Jr., DT Sheldon Richardson, DE Olivier Vernon, RB Kareem Hunt, CB Greedy Williams, S Morgan Burnett, S Eric Murray

They’re gone: G Kevin Zeitler, S Jabrill Peppers, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, QB Tyrod Taylor, LB Jamie Collins, WR Breshad Perriman, TE Darren Fells, OT Desmond Harrison

2019 snapshot: John Dorsey sure isn’t shy about swinging for the fences. With an already impressive roster, the Browns’ GM heaped on more talent this offseason, albeit taking some risks in the process.

How risky those moves prove to be might depend on Dorsey’s first decision, which was to hire Freddie Kitchens as head coach. The former RBs coach and interim offensive coordinator was a somewhat surprising choice, but he provides continuity for second-year QB Baker Mayfield. Now, can Kitchens manage all of Cleveland’s personalities?

Beckham’s talent far outweighs the headaches he creates, and his acquisition could be the single most impactful of the offseason. The compensation (pick Nos. 17 and 95, plus Peppers) was a bargain, and if Beckham and college teammate Jarvis Landry feed off each other, the move will look even better.

Dorsey also added disruption up front by inking Richardson (three years, $37 million) and trading for Vernon, and he nabbed one of the draft’s top cornerbacks in Williams despite losing draft capital in the deal for Beckham.

Trading Zeitler (for Vernon) could hurt the offensive line, but 2018 second-rounder Austin Corbett should be ready to step in at right guard. Trusting Greg Robinson to hold up for a whole season at left tackle is bold, though he performed well in the second half of 2018. Hunt’s addition also was risky, but the payoff could be huge if the Pro Bowl selection can stay on the field.

Worth the investment?

Everyone with a dollar is ready to buy the Browns, but at what cost? They’re no longer a value bet and books are starting to swing the pendulum to reflect the amount of buy-in they’re seeing in Cleveland.

Mayfield remains a decent get in the MVP race, however, at 25-1. Sounds rich, we know, considering his treading into Drew Brees-Matt Ryan territory if the Browns get off to a hot start. That also means he’s presently at value at PointsBet.com. Break it down in the simplest of terms: Quarterbacks win MVP in this league, and if the Browns write the miracle playoff run some think is possible, it’ll be Mayfield playing the role Patrick Mahomes did for the 2018 Kansas City Chiefs.

Bottom Line: It’s hard to argue with adding so much talent. If Kitchens proves to be the right hire, this is a grand slam.

–Field Level Media

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Cincinnati Bengals training camp primer

Cincinnati Bengals training camp primer

New faces: OT Jonah Williams, OG John Miller, CB B.W. Webb, DT

Cincinnati Bengals training camp primer

New faces: OT Jonah Williams, OG John Miller, CB B.W. Webb, DT Kerry Wynn, TE Drew Sample, LB Germaine Pratt

They’re gone: TE Tyler Kroft, LB Vontaze Burfict, DE Michael Johnson, LB Vincent Rey, OT Cedric Ogbuehi

2019 snapshot: One of the league’s most conservative teams, the Bengals went off the rails — by their standards — in not only firing head coach Marvin Lewis but hiring a young, offensive mind from outside the organization in Zac Taylor. Lewis’ tenure probably should have ended much earlier, but the team deserves credit for passing on familiar-but-lackluster options and swinging big with Taylor instead.

Other than the coaching change, the Bengals were predictably unflashy. They re-signed a trio of average-at-best players (OT Bobby Hart, LB Preston Brown, TE C.J. Uzomah) to surprisingly lucrative three-year deals (each more than $16 million), then gave similar contracts to Miller and Webb, both of whom were below-average starters with their former teams.

Cincinnati managed to keep a few talented players on short one-year contracts in TE Tyler Eifert ($4 million) and CB Darqueze Dennard ($4.5 million) and released Burfict, which was overdue.

A meat-and-potatoes draft added some nice pieces — including the potential long-term left tackle in Williams — but taking a blocking tight end (Sample) in Round 2 after re-signing two players at the position was awfully rich. Pratt (third round) could break into a mediocre linebacking corps, but he remains raw. It’s also worth wondering if the Bengals should have drafted a quarterback such as Dwayne Haskins or Drew Lock, as they might not get a similar chance again soon.

Worth the investment?

Losing rookie tackle Williams to a season-ending injury is a major hit for the MVP chances of running back Joe Mixon and quarterback Andy Dalton, who were well down the board to begin with. In a division defined by defense, not having a blindside protector for Dalton is a big variable to factor into any futures.

That includes the W/L number, which checks in at a modest 6.

Bottom Line: Cincinnati finally made a much-needed coaching overhaul, but the roster doesn’t look much better elsewhere. Plenty of work remains, and getting to 6-10 will not be easy.

–Field Level Media

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Baltimore Ravens training camp primer

Baltimore Ravens training camp primer

New faces: S Earl Thomas

Baltimore Ravens training camp primer

New faces: S Earl Thomas III, RB Mark Ingram II, WR Marquise Brown, OLB Jaylon Ferguson, WR Miles Boykin, OLB Pernell McPhee, OLB Shane Ray, CB Justin Bethel, WR Seth Roberts

They’re gone: LB C.J. Mosley, S Eric Weddle, OLB Terrell Suggs, QB Joe Flacco, OLB Za’Darius Smith, WR John Brown, DT Brent Urban, WR Michael Crabtree, RB Alex Collins

2019 snapshot: Even for a team used to letting talent walk in favor of compensatory picks, the Ravens had to be a little alarmed by how many big names departed this offseason. Obviously Flacco’s departure was inevitable — and he fetched a fourth-round pick despite the Ravens having no leverage — and Weddle was released.

But Baltimore likely didn’t expect Mosely, Suggs and Smith all to leave in free agency. Mosely’s departure was particularly concerning as (along with Weddle) a defensive leader and communicator, and no apparent replacement was added at inside linebacker.

New GM Eric DeCosta countered with the terrific signing of Thomas, who is still near his physical prime at age 30 but also brings the leadership, versatility and ability to disguise that Weddle offered. On the edge, DeCosta didn’t overpay for replacements, instead trying cheap one-year fliers on Ray and McPhee and drafting Ferguson, the NCAA’s all-time sack leader, in Round 3.

On offense, Baltimore made a concerted effort to build around QB Lamar Jackson, promoting Greg Roman to offensive coordinator, re-signing sturdy blocking TE Nick Boyle and adding speed (Brown and Boykin) at wideout. Mark Ingram (three years, $15 million) cost a bit much, but he should be very productive with Jackson drawing so much attention. More competition at center would have been nice, but the O-line remains solid.

Worth the investment?

At 100/1, Lamar Jackson is not a heavy favorite to win the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award. But considering his short resume as a pro and peers in the same range – including Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack – more than a few dollars are like to land on No. 8 this summer.

Bottom Line: Some of the Ravens’ plans were likely shaken by free agency, but they still managed to build around Jackson, which was priority No. 1.

–Field Level Media

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Detroit Lions training camp primer

Detroit Lions training camp primer

New faces: DE Trey Flowers, CB Justin

Detroit Lions training camp primer

New faces: DE Trey Flowers, CB Justin Coleman, TE Jesse James, WR Danny Amendola, RB C.J. Anderson, TE T.J. Hockenson, LB Jahlani Tavai, CB Rashaan Melvin, WR Jermaine Kearse, G Oday Aboushi, S Will Harris

They’re gone: DE Ezekiel Ansah, G T.J. Lang, S Glover Quin, RB LeGarrette Blount, CB Nevin Lawson, DT Kerry Hyder, FB Nick Bellore, TE Luke Willson, TE Levine Toilolo, TE Michael Roberts

2019 snapshot: The Lions didn’t hold back in free agency, handing massive contracts to Flowers (five years, $90 million) and Coleman (four years, $36 million) plus an ample deal for James (four years, $22.6 million) and a one-year flier on Amendola ($4.5 million). Each could prove to be upgrades, but it’s hard to imagine any outperforming his contract, so there isn’t much upside.

The rest of Detroit’s offseason was about reshaping the offense, as coordinator Jim Bob Cooter was allowed to walk, with Darrell Bevell arriving to replace him. Matt Patricia and Bevell have been adamant about building through the running game, an uncommon approach in today’s NFL, but Hockenson will certainly help the cause. He should contribute from Day 1 as a receiver and blocker, giving Detroit schematic flexibility and options in the run game and off play-action. Anderson should join Kerryon Johnson to form a quality backfield duo.

Even if offensive issues are solved, the defense still has holes. Tavai is the sort of multi-faceted linebacker Patricia loves, but the Lions don’t have any true edge pass rusher (Flowers is best off working inside). Another outside cornerback must step up, especially if Darius Slay’s holdout for a new contract continues. Damon Harrison is also holding out for a new deal, and the Lions’ run defense was a mess before he arrived last year.

Worth the investment?

–The Lions were big spenders in the offseason, but will they be able to cash out in the win column? Oddsmakers aren’t so sure. The consensus over-under win total is 7 after going 6-10 a year ago.

Bottom Line: The Lions added talent and have a clear plan, but a run-first offense and free agent spending sprees rarely breed success in today’s NFL.

–Field Level Media

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Report: Camp holdout still possible for Cowboys’ Elliott

Report: Camp holdout still possible for Cowboys' Elliott

Report: Camp holdout still possible for Cowboys’ Elliott

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has not ruled out a holdout during training camp as the sides explore the possibility of a new contract, NFL Network reported.

“From what I’m told, as recently as yesterday, all options are still on the table,” NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said on “Good Morning Football.” The fourth-year running back “still has not yet firmly decided whether or not he is going to hold out. If he does not hold out, that means contract talks are going in the right direction or at least he trusts the Cowboys to get a deal done.”

Elliott, who was the fourth overall selection by the Cowboys in the 2016 NFL Draft, still has two years remaining on his rookie contract. He will make $3.85 million in the upcoming season, with an option in 2020 for $9.01 million.

The Ohio State product rushed for an NFL-leading 1,434 yards in 2018, and his 95.6 yards per game also led the league. He had six rushing touchdowns and three receiving.

Elliott, 24, has started all 40 games he has played in over the past three seasons, He has rushed for 4,048 yards on 868 carries with 28 touchdowns. He also has 135 receptions for 1,199 yards and six more TDs.

–Field Level Media

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Ex-Maryland coach Durkin assisting at Falcons camp

Ex-Maryland coach Durkin assisting at Falcons camp

DJ Durkin, ousted

Ex-Maryland coach Durkin assisting at Falcons camp

DJ Durkin, ousted as Maryland’s football coach after the death of one of his players, is working as a training camp assistant coach with the Atlanta Falcons.

Durkin was one of four camp-only coaches announced by head coach Dan Quinn, ESPN reported Monday.

Maryland fired Durkin after an investigation into circumstances surrounding tackle Jordan McNair, who fell ill during a practice on May 29, 2018, and later died. Durkin was put on administrative leave on Aug. 11, 2018, following an ESPN report that described the culture in the Terrapins program as “toxic.” He was reinstated in late October and fired the following day amid an uproar.

Last December, Alabama coach Nick Saban brought in Durkin as a short-term consultant for the Crimson Tide.

While he called McNair’s death an “unfortunate situation, of course,” Quinn defended his decision.

“I know DJ firsthand, about what he is as a coach,” Quinn said. “I’ve coached with him. And I know what his character is. We did all of our due diligence of calling everybody at Maryland and had our own follow-up to there. So what I would know is, in the past, we’ve had Ron Wolf come to help me with another set of eyes. Last year, Darrell Bevell coming into the same role.

“I think it’s a huge advantage that you can have somebody of respect and can look at some certain things to help your team in the evaluation.”

Durkin, 41, was an assistant coach at Florida for five seasons. In two of those seasons, Quinn was the defensive coordinator for the Gators.

“It’s not that unusual for me to have people come to be a part of our program and add value to it for a smaller period of time,” Quinn said. “I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again in the future.”

–Field Level Media

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Chicago Bears training camp primer

Chicago Bears training camp primer

New faces: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, CB Buster Skrine, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, RB

Chicago Bears training camp primer

New faces: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, CB Buster Skrine, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, RB Mike Davis, RB David Montgomery, WR Riley Ridley, G Ted Larsen

They’re gone: S Adrian Amos, CB Bryce Callahan, RB Jordan Howard, WR Josh Bellamy, G Eric Kush, TE Dion Sims, WR Kevin White, K Cody Parkey

2019 snapshot: Virtually any defense that reaches the heights Chicago’s did in 2018 is bound to regress some, but the Bears might be in for a larger slide than most. It’s not the team’s fault that Vic Fangio is gone, but Chicago could have promoted Ed Donatell to D-coordinator to maintain Fangio’s scheme. Instead, Donatell followed Fangio to Denver, and Chuck Pagano took over the Bears’ D. Pagano has ample talent at his disposal, but his defenses in Indianapolis were disappointing. Chicago also lost talent in the secondary, with Clinton-Dix and Skrine replacing Amos and Callahan, respectively, albeit at friendlier prices.

The Bears put most of their efforts into supplementing the offense, as Davis and Montgomery should be an upgrade to Howard in the backfield, and Patterson and Ridley complement a talented receiving corps. The O-line remains solid, with James Daniels moving to center (Cody Whitehair will bump out to guard) and RT Bobby Massie retained (four years, $32 million), giving quarterback Mitchell Trubisky no excuses.

Chicago’s kicking situation remains concerning, as Parkey was released one year into a big contract, and no obvious replacement emerged in the months that followed. Of the series of offseason additions at kickers, several already have been released, and those who made it through the summer did so despite missing multiple kicks at OTAs and minicamp.

Worth the investment?

–Trubisky started near 100-1 at some books in the MVP derby. Perhaps he’s worthy of that billing, but investors drove him up to 25-1 and even higher before training camp began.

Bottom Line: Without much cap space or a first- or second-round pick, the Bears didn’t have much room to upgrade, but they could have done more to fight defensive regression.

–Field Level Media

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Report: Patriots’ Edelman (thumb) to miss about three weeks

Report: Patriots' Edelman (thumb) to miss about three weeks

New England Patriots

Report: Patriots’ Edelman (thumb) to miss about three weeks

New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman has a finger injury and will be out about three weeks, ESPN reported on Monday.

Over the weekend, Edelman had a brace on his left thumb while working at his youth camp, and whether the thumb was broken wasn’t clear.

The Patriots open training camp later this week in Foxborough, Mass.

With Edelman on the sideline, quarterback Tom Brady will be without his favorite target, having already lost tight end Rob Gronkowski to retirement. He also will be missing receiver Josh Gordon, who is suspended, and offensive weapons Sony Michel and Demaryius Thomas, who are on the physically unable to perform list as camp opens.

“I’m extremely excited for the new year. This is a new team,” Edelman said at his camp, per ESPN. “With training camp coming up, this is kind of like when school is back in session. We had summer break. You get to see all the fellas and this is where you learn your team, learn each other and become accountable for each other, and create a consistency together.

“This is like the beginning shape form of your team, these next few weeks. It’s a crucial point. You put a lot of hard work in during the spring and it’s the next step until you’re playing with other teams. ”

Edelman is entering his 10th NFL season, all with New England. In 2018, he caught 74 passes for 850 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games. He served a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Edelman had 10 receptions for 141 yards and was named MVP of New England’s 13-3 win against the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3.

In May, the Patriots finalized a two-year extension worth $21 million with the 33-year-old receiver.

–Field Level Media

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Green Bay Packers training camp primer

Green Bay Packers training camp primer

New faces: OLB Za'Darius Smith, OLB Preston Smith,

Green Bay Packers training camp primer

New faces: OLB Za’Darius Smith, OLB Preston Smith, S Adrian Amos, OL Billy Turner, DE/OLB Rashan Gary, S Darnell Savage, OL Elgton Jenkins, TE Jace Sternberger, TE Michael Roberts

They’re gone: OLB Clay Matthews, WR Randall Cobb, OLB Nick Perry, DE Muhammad Wilkerson, LB Jake Ryan, CB Bashaud Breeland, CB Davon House, OL Byron Bell

2019 snapshot: In one of the more active Packers offseasons in recent memory, an interesting dichotomy emerged: The offense was overhauled schematically under a new head coach, but almost all personnel resources were devoted to the defense. Clearly, GM Brian Gutekunst is confident that Matt LaFleur — who has worked on the staffs of Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan– can find the right recipe for Aaron Rodgers & Co., as he added just two linemen (Turner and Jenkins) and a mid-round flex tight end (Sternberger) on offense.

On defense, Gutekunst backed up the Brinks truck (combined $118 million over four years) for the Smiths (unrelated) to replace Matthews and Perry (both released) on the edge. He also took mega-talent Rashan Gary — who could line up all over the place in Mike Pettine’s defense — with the 12th overall pick in the draft and made major investments at safety in Amos (four years, $37 million) and Savage (trade up to 21st overall). That gives Pettine plenty of toys to play with in a shape-shifting defense, but it all must come together.

Glowing offseason reports about wide receiver Marquez-Valdes Scantling soothed concerns about a young group of skill-position players, but it was still surprising to see no wideout drafted. Sternberger is ready to contribute as a receiver right away, but he’ll have to fight Jimmy Graham for snaps. Of course, how Rodgers takes to LaFleur’s offense will supersede all else.

Worth the investment?

–Not even the most optimistic Packers backers can be certain of the direction this team will take amid a major offseason change. But Aaron Rodgers, when healthy, is bound to get you to .500. Could he have 12 wins in him? The win/loss over-under line consensus is 9.5.

Bottom Line: Green Bay was probably too aggressive in spots, and a few holes remain. But if LaFleur unleashes Rodgers, this team will be back in Super Bowl contention.

–Field Level Media

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Minnesota Vikings training camp primer

Minnesota Vikings training camp primer

New faces: G Josh Kline, DT Shamar

Minnesota Vikings training camp primer

New faces: G Josh Kline, DT Shamar Stephen, C Garrett Bradbury, TE Irv Smith Jr., RB Alexander Mattison, G Dru Samia

They’re gone: DT Sheldon Richardson, RB Latavius Murray, OT Mike Remmers, S Andrew Sendejo, C Nick Easton, S George Iloka, QB Trevor Siemian, CB/PR Marcus Sherels

2019 snapshot: Priority No. 1 for Minnesota was to get the offense back on track, with a clear emphasis on coaching and the offensive line.

Gary Kubiak arrived to assist offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, and the duo should be good for QB Kirk Cousins. Perhaps more important, Bradbury (first round) and Kline (free agency) will help shore up the interior and get the outside-zone running game going, opening up a wealth of play-action designs. With Riley Reiff and Brian O’Neil — who impressed as a raw rookie in 2018 — on the outside, the front five should be strong enough.

The rest of the Vikings’ offseason was about balancing salaries within a small window of cap room, but the results were mixed. The departures of Murray, Remmers, Sendejo and Easton were expected, but Richardson (who got three years and $37 million in Cleveland) might have been a better investment than LB Anthony Barr, who was retained for five years, $67.5 million, especially when considering positional value.

Likewise, TE Kyle Rudolph’s extension (four years, $36 million) seemed far too rich. Rudolph isn’t much more than average as a receiver or a blocker, and Smith appeared to be the obvious long-term starter. On the bright side, Minnesota got Everson Griffen to accept a pay cut and extended Adam Thielen at a reasonable price (four years, $64.2 million), a nice reward for an undrafted, homegrown talent.

Worth the investment?

–At 50-1, Kirk Cousins might look like a bargain buy for a playoff team. His poor showings in big games – and vs. teams with winning records – would seem to tell another story. Cousins could be a good bet if he puts up great numbers for a division winner, but his reputation will not be easily overcome.

Bottom Line: The deals for Barr and Rudolph felt like luxuries, but the Vikings improved up front without destroying their cap. Not bad.

–Field Level Media

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Buffalo Bills training camp primer

Buffalo Bills training camp primer

New faces: C Mitch Morse, DT Ed Oliver, WR

Buffalo Bills training camp primer

New faces: C Mitch Morse, DT Ed Oliver, WR John Brown, WR Cole Beasley, OL Cody Ford, OG Spencer Long, OG Quinton Spain, OT Ty Nsekhe, OT LaAdrian Waddle, TE Tyler Kroft, TE Lee Smith, TE Dawson Knox, RB T.J. Yeldon, RB Frank Gore, RB Devin Singletary, CB Kevin Johnson, CB E.J. Gaines, WR Andre Roberts

They’re gone: DT Kyle Williams, TE Charles Clay, OG John Miller, OT Jordan Mills, WR Deonte Thompson

2019 snapshot: Mostly patient a year ago, the Bills went crazy in free agency this offseason, adding both quality and quantity with all kinds of deals.

Morse isn’t worth the largest contract in NFL history for a center (four years, $44.5 million), but GM Brandon Beane found bargains on the O-line in Nsekhe (two years, $10 million), Spain (one year, $2 million) and Waddle (one year, $2 million). After jumping up in Round 2 to nab Ford — who could play tackle or guard — the Bills should have a much improved front five with four new starters.

Buffalo found QB Josh Allen more weapons in Brown, Beasley, Kroft and Knox, a third-rounder with athletic upside. Each were reasonable investments, especially because they’ll help determine just how quickly Allen is progressing. Answers were also added to replace the aging LeSean McCoy, with Singletary (third round) drafted and Gore and Yeldon added in free agency.

Despite extending contract-year DE Jerry Hughes, the Bills didn’t add an edge rusher to complement him, which they might regret unless Shaq Lawson takes a major step. On the bright side, though, they managed to get Oliver at No. 9 overall. Not nearly the polished pass rusher Aaron Donald was coming out of Pitt, Oliver nonetheless has similar athletic gifts and will be disruptive (if not a finisher) from Day 1.

Worth the investment?

–Two years removed from a 9-7 campaign and a playoff appearance, the Bills are certainly capable of going over seven wins. But Allen must develop as a passer, making this a bit of a risky play.

–Only one team, the 2008 Dolphins, has taken the AFC East from the New England Patriots since 2003, and that was with Tom Brady missing virtually all season. Even at +700, the Bills’ odds to win their first division title since 1995 probably aren’t worth taking.

Bottom line: The spending spree looked a little wild, but the Bills structured contracts smartly and didn’t take on much risk. They also managed to address most major holes, with plenty of upside in the draft class.

–Field Level Media

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp primer

Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp primer

New faces: DT Ndamukong Suh, LB Deone Bucannon, OLB Shaquil Barrett, LB Devin

Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp primer

New faces: DT Ndamukong Suh, LB Deone Bucannon, OLB Shaquil Barrett, LB Devin White, WR Breshad Perriman, QB Blaine Gabbert, P Bradley Pinion, CB Sean Bunting, CB Jamel Dean, K Matt Gay

They’re gone: DT Gerald McCoy, LB Kwon Alexander, WR DeSean Jackson, WR Adam Humphries, CB Brent Grimes, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, DE Vinny Curry

2019 snapshot: A disappointing team in an extremely difficult division, the Bucs might have made their biggest upgrades this offseason in the coaching staff.

Replacing Dirk Koetter is Bruce Arians, fresh off a one-year retirement. He brought many of the key pieces from his successful staff in Arizona, including D-coordinator Todd Bowles, offensive minds Harold Goodwin and Byron Leftwich, and special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong.

Elsewhere, GM Jason Licht’s approach raised more question marks. LT Donovan Smith’s extension (three years, $41.3 million) was reasonable in an out-of-control O-line market, as was letting Alexander depart for San Francisco at a ridiculous price (four years, $54 million). But while White (fifth overall pick) should thrive in place of Alexander, he represented an exorbitant investment at a position of marginal value, while the Bucs spent fewer resources on the edge. Barrett was a bargain, but there are few other dangerous rushers after Jason Pierre-Paul’s neck injury.

Releasing McCoy and signing Suh while saving $3.75 million seems like a win, but Suh isn’t necessarily the better player, and he’s certainly not the leader McCoy was. Licht also invested heavily at both kicker (Gay) — a few years after his disastrous trade-up for Roberto Aguayo — and punter (Pinion), positions that rarely justify any sort of significant price tag or draft capital.

Worth the investment?

–The Bucs went 5-11 last season and shouldn’t be any worse, so going over their 6.5 over/under win total is certainly achievable, as long as Jameis Winston clicks with Arians.

–Speaking of Winston, his MVP odds (+10000) are tied for 37th-best in the NFL, behind several wideouts and even defensive players. Given Arians’ history — he helped Carson Palmer finish as an MVP runner-up in 2015 — that could be one of the best longshots on the board.

Bottom line: Bringing in Arians gives Winston his best shot at success, but it’s hard to get on board with the rest of what Licht did. The GM’s job could well depend on this season.

–Field Level Media

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Carolina Panthers training camp primer

Carolina Panthers training camp primer

New faces: C Matt Paradis, DT Gerald McCoy, DE/OLB Bruce Irvin,

Carolina Panthers training camp primer

New faces: C Matt Paradis, DT Gerald McCoy, DE/OLB Bruce Irvin, WR Chris Hogan, DE/OLB Brian Burns, OT Greg Little, QB Will Grier

They’re gone: C Ryan Kalil, DE Julius Peppers, LB Thomas Davis, WR Devin Funchess, OT Matt Kalil, OT Chris Clark, S Mike Adams

2019 snapshot: A year after changing ownership, the Panthers faced significant turnover brought on by a number of different factors. Franchise icons in Ryan Kalil and Peppers retired, while a third (Davis) was allowed to walk in free agency.

Paradis should be a nice replacement for Kalil — as long as his surgically repaired ankle holds up — and McCoy will help replace some of Peppers’ leadership while Burns and Irvin try to rev up the edge rush. The unit will look different for another reason as well, with Ron Rivera and D-coordinator Eric Washington employing more 3-4 looks.

In addition to Paradis up front, the Panthers added Little (second round), retained Daryl Williams on a friendly deal (one year, $6 million) and released Matt Kalil. Little is raw and has had his motor questioned, while Williams has struggled to stay healthy, but between the pair and Taylor Moton, the tackle position should be OK.

That’s important because Cam Newton is still working his way back from shoulder surgery, though he progressed to throwing a regulation football during OTAs. Grier’s selection raised concerns about Newton, but all signs point to the former MVP being ready for the regular season. Before he was hurt in 2018, he thrived under new O-coordinator Norv Turner, so optimism is warranted if Newton is indeed healthy.

Worth the investment?

–Newton’s injury overshadowed how excellent the Panthers were when he was fully healthy last season. The possibility that Carolina returns to that form makes the over on a 7.5-win total extremely enticing.

–Even if Newton is fully healthy, what are the odds he’ll return to his 2015 MVP form? Bovada has them at +4000, on par with two Rams (Jared Goff and Aaron Donald), which feels a bit risky.

Bottom line: Carolina did well to address its biggest holes, though most of its moves still carried risk. The Panthers could thrive if everything clicks as planned.

–Field Level Media

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New Orleans Saints training camp primer

New Orleans Saints training camp primer

New faces: TE

New Orleans Saints training camp primer

New faces: TE Jared Cook, C Nick Easton, DT Malcom Brown, RB Latavius Murray, DT Mario Edwards, C Erik McCoy, S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, CB/PR Marcus Sherels

They’re gone: C Max Unger, RB Mark Ingram, DE Alex Okafor, TE Benjamin Watson, S Kurt Coleman, LB Manti Te’o

2019 snapshot: After years of borrowing against the future to upgrade the present, the Saints certainly weren’t going to stop this offseason, not with Drew Brees at age 40 and the team still firmly on the doorstep of another Super Bowl appearance. For most other teams, that would be irresponsible roster management, but it’s hard to fault the Saints for trying to maximize the window to win a championship.

In free agency, New Orleans nabbed Cook, the sort of receiving tight end Brees hasn’t had since Jimmy Graham was traded to Seattle. They also added a possible replacement for Unger in Easton, found insurance for injured DT Sheldon Rankins by signing Brown and Edwards, and replaced the departed Ingram with a slightly cheaper deal for Murray. New Orleans also retained Teddy Bridgewater for just $7.25 million, keeping alive the possibility he could be Brees’ successor.

Absent their first-round pick because of last year’s trade-up for Marcus Davenport, the Saints traded up again this year for McCoy (second round) and Gardner-Johnson (fourth), leaving little else in their draft class. McCoy will battle Easton for the job to replace Unger.

New Orleans still has work to do, as Michael Thomas needs an extension entering the final year of his rookie deal. On the plus side, the Saints found room for a Cameron Jordan extension (three years, $52.5 million).

Worth the investment?

–Only the Patriots (11) have a higher over/under than the Saints (10.5). New Orleans could still hit, but 11 wins is a high bar for any team to reach.

–It’s remarkable that Brees, a 12-time Pro Bowler in 18 seasons, still has not won an MVP award. He has the fourth-best odds this season (+1000), but his decline down the stretch last season makes that a risky play.

Our Take: They’ll eventually have to pay off all their debts, but the Saints set themselves up for a run at Super Bowl LIV.

–Field Level Media

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New York Jets training camp primer

New York Jets training camp primer

New York Jets training camp primer

New faces: RB Le’Veon Bell, LB C.J. Mosley, DT Quinnen Williams, WR Jamison Crowder, OG Kelechi Osemele, CB Brian Poole, QB Trevor Siemian, WR Josh Bellamy, WR Deonte Thompson, K Chandler Catanzaro, OLB Jachai Polite

They’re gone: OG James Carpenter, C Spencer Long, CB Buster Skrine, DL Mike Pennel, WR Andre Roberts, K Jason Myers, S Terrence Brooks, WR Jermaine Kearse, RB Isaiah Crowell

2019 snapshot: Few teams in the league had a more complicated offseason than the Jets, who apparently disliked their own moves from this spring so much that the man who made them is now gone. Former GM Mike Maccagnan was fired in May, with Joe Douglas hired in June.

That came after Maccagnan hired Adam Gase as head coach, led a free agent spending spree for Bell, Mosely and Crowder, and ran the draft room as normal in April. Did the team finally get it right by hiring Douglas? Or does that bizarre sequence of events simply show a dysfunctional organization?

Maccagnan’s moves certainly raised a few eyebrows. He made outlandish investments at two of the league’s least valuable positions in running back (Bell; four years, $52 million) and inside linebacker (Mosley; five years, $85 million), then added an expensive slot wideout (Crowder; three years, $28.5 million) just a few months after extending Quincy Enunwa, who predominantly plays the slot.

The draft was more encouraging, as Williams was clearly the best player available, even at a crowded position with Leonard Williams, Steve McLendon and newly re-signed Henry Anderson. Third-round picks Polite and OT Chuma Edoga each bring some upside (albeit amid character concerns), and TE Trevon Wesco (fourth round) should be a nice Swiss-army knife as a tight end/H-back.

Worth the investment?

–The Jets managed just four wins a year ago, but with several major talent upgrades, they could reasonably flirt with the postseason. It’s not hard to see them topping their 7-win over/under.

–As far as MVP longshots go, you could do far worse than Sam Darnold (+7500), who came on strong to finish his rookie season and now has Adam Gase as his head coach.

Bottom line: It was probably the right move to fire Maccagnan, but it’s hard to justify the process that led up to it or the timing. Still, if Williams stars like expected — he’ll need to sign his contract and report to camp first — this team looks much more talented.

–Field Level Media

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New England Patriots training camp primer

New England Patriots training camp primer

New faces: DE Michael Bennett, LB Jamie Collins, WR Demaryius

New England Patriots training camp primer

New faces: DE Michael Bennett, LB Jamie Collins, WR Demaryius Thomas, TE Benjamin Watson, TE Matt LaCosse, WR N’Keal Harry, WR Dontrelle Inman, DL Mike Pennel, RB Brandon Bolden, S Terrence Brooks, CB Joejuan Williams, DE Chase Winovich, RB Damien Harris

They’re gone: TE Rob Gronkowski, DE Trey Flowers, OT Trent Brown, DT Malcom Brown, WR Chris Hogan, DE Adrian Clayborn, TE Dwayne Allen, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, CB Eric Rowe, OT LaAdrian Waddle

2019 snapshot: Another offseason, another talent exodus in New England.

Given the Patriots just won the Super Bowl, nobody should be panicking, but Gronkowski, Flowers and Trent Brown will be very tough to replace. At the same time, Gronk’s retirement was out of the team’s control, and the Patriots certainly would not have paid Flowers (five years, $90 million) or Brown (four years, $66 million) anywhere near the money they landed on the open market.

As usual, the Patriots regrouped and reloaded in a variety of creative ways. Bennett cost only a swap of late-round picks and should step right into Flowers’ role, with inside-outside versatility and pass rush. Collins was brought back for a bargain $2 million after his release in Cleveland, and Watson (one year, $3 million) and LaCosse (two years, $2.8 million) provide cheap options at tight end. Between Thomas, Harry and Inman, the receiving corps should produce a few suitable options.

Some questions remain. Offensive tackle is thin after Brown and Waddle left in free agency, and signee Jared Veldheer decided to retire. The tight end spot lacks a clear answer or upside after Bill Belichick surprisingly didn’t draft one from a quality group of prospects and released Austin Seferian-Jenkins during the offseason program. Even so, Belichick produced an excellent draft class overall, with Williams, Winovich and Harris all expected to contribute early in addition to Harry.

Worth the investment?

–The Patriots have the NFL’s highest over/under win total (11) and the best odds to win Super Bowl LIV (+600). Both figures feel a tad rich, but each could hit if Tom Brady doesn’t fall off a cliff.

–As usual, Brady is among the favorites for MVP, with decent odds at +1400 (surprisingly behind Baker Mayfield at +1100). He needs two more to tie Peyton Manning (five) for most all-time, but the soon-to-be 42-year-old might not get the requisite volume.

Bottom line: The Patriots are clearly less talented overall, but it’s hard to argue with many of their decisions in a vacuum. Until Brady declines, they should remain a juggernaut.

–Field Level Media

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Miami Dolphins training camp primer

Miami Dolphins training camp primer

New faces: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB Josh Rosen,

Miami Dolphins training camp primer

New faces: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB Josh Rosen, TE Dwayne Allen, DT Christian Wilkins, CB Eric Rowe, OT Jordan Mills, OG Chris Reed, C Michael Deiter

They’re gone: QB Ryan Tannehill, OT Ja’Wuan James, DE Cameron Wake, DE Robert Quinn, OG Josh Sitton, RB Frank Gore, WR Danny Amendola, C Travis Swanson

2019 snapshot: Miami made major changes last spring while touting the importance of culture, but this offseason was even more extreme in that regard, with a complete reset.

GM Chris Grier gained full control of personnel with Mike Tannenbaum gone and brought in head coach Brian Flores, who will run the defense while fellow former Patriot Chad O’Shea coordinates the offense. Jim Caldwell was brought in to be assistant head coach/quarterbacks, but will instead be a consultant after a leave of absence for medical reasons.

The offense will also have a new leader for the first time since 2012, as Tannehill was dealt, and Fitzpatrick (two years, $11 million) and Rosen (acquired for second- and fifth-round picks) were brought in. The trade for Rosen is a home run any way you look at it: The Dolphins owe just $6.3 million over three years for the opportunity to see if a top-10 prospect (who was better than his numbers in Arizona) is their long-term answer at QB. If he isn’t, he still brings value as a backup.

The Dolphins were mostly quiet elsewhere, saying goodbye to three key O-linemen and bringing in uninspiring replacements. Mills isn’t nearly at James’ level, and the interior has major concerns even if Deiter (third round) can start right away. Those issues could muddy the evaluation of Rosen.

Worth the investment?

–The Dolphins and Cardinals are tied for the NFL-low over/under win total (five), and Miami’s tanking intentions have been widely reported. That said, Fitzpatrick could get hot and win a few games, and Rosen will be quite motivated. We’d say away from this one.

–For longshot fans out there, how about Miami at +2000 to win the AFC East? Stranger things have happened, like when the 2008 Dolphins — coming off a 1-15 season — claimed the only non-Patriots division title since 2003 despite preseason odds of +4000.

Bottom line: The defense could use more help, and the lack of investment in the O-line is troubling, but Rosen’s arrival is a major boost. Odds are, it won’t lead to many wins in 2019, which might be Miami’s preference, anyway.

–Field Level Media

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Texans’ Watt, Hopkins placed on PUP list

Texans' Watt, Hopkins placed on PUP list

Texans’ Watt, Hopkins placed on PUP list

The Houston Texans placed defensive end J.J. Watt and wideout DeAndre Hopkins on the active/physically unable to perform list on Sunday, indicating both players will sit out practice when training camp begins later this week.

Texans veterans report on Wednesday and begin practicing Thursday. Rookies reported Sunday.

Watt had cleanup surgery on his knee in January after Houston lost in the wild-card playoffs, but there’s no indication his recovery will threaten his regular-season availability.

Hopkins battled a shoulder injury late last season, saying after the playoff loss he tore ligaments “completely off the bone,” but reports at the time said he would not need surgery. He also fought a foot injury, but said in June he expected to be ready for training camp.

Either player can be activated anytime to facilitate a return to practice.

The Texans also placed rookie tight end Kahale Warring on the active/non-football-injury list. Warring’s injury is unknown.

A third-round pick in April, Warring is expected to compete to start for the Texans after promising work in the offseason.

The team did not announce any move regarding wideout Will Fuller, which could be good news. If Fuller is not placed on the PUP list, he would be able to practice immediately after missing all of the team’s offseason work during his recovery from a torn ACL.

–Field Level Media

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Dolphins waive DT Norton, will pay salary

Dolphins waive DT Norton, will pay salary

The Miami Dolphins placed defensive tackle Kendrick

Dolphins waive DT Norton, will pay salary

The Miami Dolphins placed defensive tackle Kendrick Norton — whose left arm was amputated following a car crash earlier this month — on the reserve/non-football-injury list on Sunday, effectively waiving him.

Norton will not count against the 90-man roster, but the team will still pay his $495,000 salary, and his medical bills will be covered by insurance through the NFL and the Dolphins.

The 22-year-old’s NFL career is over after his July 4 accident. He had six surgeries over a two-week span before being discharged from the hospital on Thursday.

Norton, who played at the University of Miami, said several Dolphins teammates and coaches came to see him in the hospital often, and cited first-year head coach Brian Flores as a daily guest to his hospital room.

Norton spent most of the 2018 season on the Panthers’ practice squad after Carolina selected him in the seventh round of the 2018 draft. The Dolphins signed him in December.

Norton was cited with making an improper lane change, per a Florida Highway Patrol report. He suddenly pulled his F-250 truck in front of a Maserati and clipped it, sending his car into a concrete barrier. The other driver was not injured, and the report said drugs or alcohol were not believed to be a factor.

Also on Sunday, the Dolphins placed tight end Dwayne Allen, linebacker Mike Hull and cornerback Cordrea Tankersley on the physically unable to perform list. None of the three can partake in on-field activities at training camp, which starts Thursday, until activated from the PUP list.

The Dolphins also claimed offensive lineman Will Holden off waivers from the Arizona Cardinals and waived cornerback Jamar Summers.

–Field Level Media

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