Take 5: Divisional playoff keys

Take 5: Divisional playoff keys

Rarely is a 1-vs.-6 matchup so juicy, but with the Indianapolis Colts riding a 10-1 run, the Kansas City Chiefs will have their hands full Saturday.

With excellent offenses and defenses with very specific strengths, both sides of the ball feature intriguing matchups. We’ll touch on both before diving into the other three divisional games.

1. Fireworks in Arrowhead’s trenches

No team has protected its quarterback better than the Colts since Week 5, but the Chiefs’ defense — built to protect leads — boasts three viable star pass rushers.

Chris Jones’ 15.5 sacks and 29 QB hits, especially eye-popping from a defensive tackle, might actually undersell his pass-rushing impact. Even when he doesn’t get there, he routinely powers blockers backward, creating opportunities for teammates when quarterbacks can’t step up.

Dee Ford (13 sacks, 29 hits) has been the biggest beneficiary. His lightning first step favors speed rushes, and turning the corner is much easier with QBs deep in the pocket. Four-time Pro Bowler Justin Houston (9.0 sacks, 12 hits in 12 games) is no slouch, either.

Sparks should fly, as Jones will often line up opposite All-Pro rookie left guard Quenton Nelson. Both have tremendous power with enough complementary quickness. Can Nelson hold up like few others have against Jones this season?

On the edges, left tackle Anthony Castonzo is a rock, while right tackle Braden Smith has been steady but occasionally susceptible. Smith could struggle some with Ford, whose diminutive frame (6-foot-2, 252 pounds) offers an awfully small target when he’s bending to turn the corner.

The Colts chipped J.J. Watt often last week while rarely doubling Jadeveon Clowney, so it will be interesting to see whom they key on. Ford would make sense, as chip blocks would neutralize his first step. Indy could also slide center Ryan Kelly to Jones’ side, hoping right guard Mark Glowinski can handle Allen Bailey (six sacks, 10 hits) alone.

Indianapolis should have a major advantage in the run game, where Jones and Bailey are undisciplined and struggle to anchor. The Colts might be best exploiting that edge relentlessly … assuming they can avoid a huge deficit.

2. Colts’ defense must pick its poison

Coordinator Matt Eberflus’ unit is thriving. His Cover-2 heavy scheme lets defenders to play fast and improve during the season, but has enough wrinkles to keep opponents off balance and probe at weaknesses.

But the Chiefs’ offense has few weaknesses.

If Eberflus relies on his front four for pressure, even their stunts and twists might not trouble Kansas City’s O-line, giving Patrick Mahomes time to break Indy’s zones down. Eberflus could turn to his slot blitzes (featuring cornerback Kenny Moore), but those risk flushing Mahomes from the pocket, where he might be more lethal.

Another conundrum is how to handle Tyreek Hill. Cover-2 is supposedly safe against deep throws, but it inherently makes two safeties and a linebacker the deepest defenders. Giving Andy Reid chances to get Hill — especially from the slot — against a safety or linebacker is playing with fire. Containing Hill with proper depth would open gaping underneath windows. Mahomes and Travis Kelce have torched zone defenses up the seams, and Reid loves dagger concepts with Hill clearing out space for dig routes.

The Colts should mix up coverage more than usual — that’s how teams have best contained Mahomes anyway — but they won’t plug every leak.

3. Cowboys have ingredients for L.A. upset

Dallas’ 8-1 stretch has been fortunate — the Cowboys’ point differential is just plus-14 in that span — but they match up well against the 13-3 Rams.

Like the Seahawks, the Rams’ offense is built around its run game. L.A. is much more pass-oriented than Seattle, but Sean McVay’s scheme is centered around outside-zone runs and complementary play-action.

The Cowboys have been susceptible to play-action (112.6 rating allowed during the regular season), but they have the horses to stop the run. If they can do so with a lighter box, an extra safety deep could help neutralize the Rams’ two-man downfield concepts off play-action.

More importantly, Dallas’ greatest strength (running game) aligns perfectly with L.A.’s biggest weakness (run defense). The Cowboys’ line is still excellent without Travis Frederick, and Ezekiel Elliott has been even more impressive. He is outstanding at coming downhill path to force linebackers to commit before jump-cutting into a different lane or veering outside.

One Rams edge could come against Amari Cooper. Cornerback Aqib Talib has the physicality and quickness to handle Cooper. In seven games against Talib — often covered by Talib but not always — Cooper has caught 18 of 40 targets for 169 yards and two scores, including one catch for 9 yards in Week 1.

4. What will Gus Bradley do in Foxborough?

The defenses that have bothered Tom Brady most this season have used blitzes and zone exchanges to get free rushers, but the Chargers’ Cover-3 defense is as static as they come, at least on early downs.

Will Bradley change up? He has versatile pieces: Derwin James, Desmond King and Adrian Phillips can all blitz, and Melvin Ingram is capable dropping in zone or even man coverage. Bradley might simply hope Ingram, Joey Bosa & Co. can get home, but using obvious Cover-3 looks over and over is asking for trouble against Brady.

We’ll also find out if L.A. trusts any of its linebackers. Last week’s “dollar” package (seven DBs) was catered to stop Lamar Jackson, but it was also borne of necessity by the injury to Jatavis Brown (joining linebackers Denzel Perryman and Kyzir White on IR). The Chargers probably won’t use dollar on 60 snaps again, but they’ll at least play plenty of dime (six DBs).

That heavily contrasts New England, which uses 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end) on far more snaps (35 percent) than any other team but the 49ers (44 percent; nobody else over 19). The Patriots can bully opponents by running straight at them with Sony Michel following James Develin, but would they do so — and give Brady fewer chances to throw — in a playoff game? The Chargers might force them to choose.

5. Clean slate for Eagles’ offense in New Orleans

Philadelphia’s offense was horrendous in Week 11’s 48-7 drubbing, but so much changed since.

Obviously, Nick Foles is in for Carson Wentz, so Doug Pederson’s approach will be quite different. Philly relied on slow-developing play-action designs early in that game, most of which — for various reasons — failed. Pederson tends to get Foles delivering faster, meaning more shotgun and quicker play-action concepts.

Meanwhile, the Eagles’ protection should be better. Center Jason Kelce left after six snaps in Week 11 and Stefen Wisniewski struggled in his stead. Philadelphia had major issues picking up second-level blitzes and stunts, allowing far too many free rushers, and Wisniewski had some shaky snaps.

But there are problems that must be fixed. Despite a quiet stat line (no sacks, one QB hit), Cameron Jordan gave right tackle Lane Johnson serious trouble, especially going inside. Jordan was inches from two sacks and disrupted Wentz four or five other times, despite playing just 31 snaps in the blowout. Johnson’s highs are very high, and he’s played to that level in the postseason, but he must rebound in the rematch with Jordan.

Likewise, the Eagles’ wideouts must separate more from man coverage. New Orleans was all too comfortable playing straight man with five rushers in the first meeting.

–David DeChant, Field Level Media

Panthers offered $120M to move facility to S.C.

Panthers offered $120M to move facility to S.C.

The Carolina Panthers will receive $120 million in tax breaks if they move

Panthers offered $120M to move facility to S.C.

The Carolina Panthers will receive $120 million in tax breaks if they move their facility to South Carolina, after the state’s Senate approved a bill Thursday by a 27-15 vote.

Under the bill, which Gov. Henry McMaster is expected to sign, the Panthers would be exempt from paying state income taxes for players, coaches and other employees for 15 years, assuming that money is used toward a new complex in South Carolina.

Currently based in Charlotte, N.C., the team has been planning a 200-acre development in Rock Hill, S.C., about 25 miles south of its current facilities next to Bank of America Stadium. The development plans include expansive football facilities as part of a broader campus with hotels, shopping and restaurants.

The bill was supported by McMaster, but many senators pushed back against the idea of giving public funds to a team owned by David Tepper, whose net worth is estimated at $11.6 billion.

“We’d like to be there. Hopefully they help us out there,” Tepper told reporters Wednesday of the potential facility in Rock Hill. “But I could be with a (practice) bubble and a cafeteria in Charlotte, too. So it’s up to them.”

Now the path appears clear for the Panthers to proceed with the planned move, which is not expected until at least 2022. The team will continue to play games at Bank of America Stadium, its home since its second season in 1996.

Tepper also told reporters Wednesday he hopes to bring a Major League Soccer team to the area eventually, potentially housing it on the same campus in Rock Hill.

–Field Level Media

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Report: Dolphins sign former Bills tackle Mills

Report: Dolphins sign former Bills tackle Mills

The Miami Dolphins are signing former

Report: Dolphins sign former Bills tackle Mills

The Miami Dolphins are signing former Buffalo Bills tackle Jordan Mills to a one-year, $3 million deal, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Thursday.

Mills, 28, started all 48 games over the past three seasons and has appeared in 87 games with 82 starts for the Chicago Bears (2013-14) and Bills (2015-18).

Mills played 95.5 percent of Buffalo’s offensive snaps (1,011 total) at right tackle last season and was penalized five times — three for holding and two false starts.

He was a fifth-round draft pick by Chicago in 2013.

Mills offers veteran stability to a Miami offensive line that lost Ja’Wuan James to the Denver Broncos in free agency.

–Field Level Media

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Dolphins sign former Bills tackle Mills

Dolphins sign former Bills tackle Mills

The Miami Dolphins signed former Buffalo Bills

Dolphins sign former Bills tackle Mills

The Miami Dolphins signed former Buffalo Bills tackle Jordan Mills to a one-year deal Thursday, which ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports is worth $3 million.

Mills, 28, started all 48 games over the past three seasons and has appeared in 87 games with 82 starts for the Chicago Bears (2013-14) and Bills (2015-18).

Mills played 95.5 percent of Buffalo’s offensive snaps (1,011 total) at right tackle last season and was penalized five times — three for holding and two false starts.

He was a fifth-round draft pick by Chicago in 2013.

Mills offers veteran stability to a Miami offensive line that lost right tackle Ja’Wuan James to the Denver Broncos in free agency.

–Field Level Media

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Jaguars release QB Kessler

Jaguars release QB Kessler

Cody Kessler is looking

Jaguars release QB Kessler

Cody Kessler is looking for work after the Jacksonville Jaguars released the quarterback on Thursday.

Kessler, who turns 26 on Saturday, was 2-2 as a starter for Jacksonville last season. He completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 709 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

A third-round pick in 2016 by Cleveland, Kessler was 0-8 as a rookie starter for the Browns and was traded to the Jaguars during the 2018 offseason for a seventh-round pick.

Kessler and Blake Bortles were the only quarterbacks used by the Jaguars last season, and now both are gone.

Bortles was released in March after Jacksonville signed Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl hero Nick Foles to a four-year, $88 million contract.

Foles’ remaining backups on the roster are untested 2018 draft picks Tanner Lee (sixth round by Jacksonville) and Alex McGough (seventh round by Seattle).

–Field Level Media

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Reports: TE Watson to join Patriots

Reports: TE Watson to join Patriots

Reports: TE Watson to join Patriots

Tight end Benjamin Watson plans to end his short-lived retirement and sign with the team that drafted him, the New England Patriots, multiple media outlets reported Thursday.

According to ESPN, Watson will sign a one-year, $3 million deal. ESPN previously reported the tight end was also considering the Chiefs, Bills and 49ers.

Reports earlier Thursday said Watson was meeting with the Patriots, who took him 32nd overall in 2004. He played six seasons in New England, followed by three seasons in Cleveland.

Watson, 38, played four of his previous five seasons with the New Orleans Saints, including last season’s run to the NFC Championship Game.

He announced his retirement in December.

“It’s time. It’s time to be done,” he said then. “I’m going to finish strong.”

In his career, Watson has played in 195 games, with 530 receptions for 5,885 yards and 44 touchdowns. In 12 postseason games, he has 22 catches for 234 yards and three scores.

The Patriots were looking for depth at tight end following the retirement of All-Pro Rob Gronkowski. They previously added free agents Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Matt LaCosse, and they did not draft a tight end last month.

On Wednesday, the Patriots announced the release of wide receiver Bruce Ellington. He signed with New England as a free agent on March 15.

–Field Level Media

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Jags LB Smith to skip 2019 for personal reasons

Jags LB Smith to skip 2019 for personal reasons

Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith said he

Jags LB Smith to skip 2019 for personal reasons

Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith said he won’t play the 2019 season for personal reasons.

A full-time starter the past four seasons and a 2017 Pro Bowler, Smith made the announcement Thursday on Instagram.

“At this time I must take time away from this game & get my world in order,” Smith wrote. “I must give this time back to myself, my family, & my health. I appreciate all the support I will & will not get. I just ask y’all respect my decision to not play football this season.”

He also affirmed he doesn’t plan to play for any team other than the Jaguars, despite rumors of a possible trade.

Smith, 28, was set to earn a base salary of $9.75 million this season. He signed a four-year, $45 million extension in October 2017.

A fifth-round pick by Jacksonville in 2014, Smith posted a career-high 134 tackles in 2018. He also has 26 pass breakups and nine interceptions in his five-year career.

Smith and Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey opted to sit out the Jaguars’ voluntary workouts last month, prompting public criticism from team executive vice president Tom Coughlin.

Smith made his first public comments about that controversy Monday during an Instagram live session.

“Understand this, I never left Duval. I’m never leaving Duval; it’s Duval ’til we die,” he said, referring to Jacksonville’s location in Duval County. “You understand me? Y’all seen trade rumors and stuff. Y’all seen me go anywhere? Exactly. Y’all seen the rumors go somewhere, but y’all ain’t seen me go nowhere cause I ain’t going nowhere. You understand me?”

Smith promised his followers Monday that they would learn more “this week” about what’s going on.

–Field Level Media

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Reports: TE Watson visiting Patriots

Reports: TE Watson visiting Patriots

Reports: TE Watson visiting Patriots

Tight end Benjamin Watson could end his short-lived retirement and is spending Thursday meeting with the New England Patriots, according to multiple reports.

Watson is no stranger to the organization, which made him the No. 32 overall selection in the 2004 NFL Draft. He played six seasons in New England, followed by three seasons in Cleveland.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Thursday that Watson also is considering the Chiefs, Bills and 49ers.

Watson, 38, played four of his previous five seasons with the New Orleans Saints, including last season’s run to the NFC Championship Game.

He announced his retirement in December.

“It’s time. It’s time to be done,” he said then. “I’m going to finish strong.”

In his career, Watson has played in 195 games, with 530 receptions for 5,885 yards and 44 touchdowns. In 12 postseason games, he has 22 catches for 234 yards and three scores.

The Patriots are looking for depth at tight end following the retirement of All-Pro Rob Gronkowski.

On Wednesday, the Patriots announced the release of wide receiver Bruce Ellington. He signed with New England as a free agent on March 15.

–Field Level Media

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Reports: CB Taylor joins Seahawks

Reports: CB Taylor joins Seahawks

Cornerback Jamar Taylor agreed to a one-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks

Reports: CB Taylor joins Seahawks

Cornerback Jamar Taylor agreed to a one-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday, per multiple reports.

Taylor, a nickel cornerback, follows defensive end Ziggy Ansah as another potential value find deep into free agency.

Ansah, the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft, was due in Seattle on Thursday to a sign a one-year deal that could be worth $8 million. However, Ansah is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and might not be cleared until August.

Taylor, 28, is a former second-round pick of the Miami Dolphins out of Boise State but has bounced around from Miami to the Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos, where he ended last season.

The Seahawks lost cornerback Justin Coleman (Detroit Lions) in free agency.

–Field Level Media

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Reports: Seahawks agree with DE Ansah

Reports: Seahawks agree with DE Ansah

Reports: Seahawks agree with DE Ansah

The Seattle Seahawks agreed to a one-year deal with free agent defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, multiple media outlets reported Wednesday evening.

Ansah is expected to fly to Seattle on Thursday to sign, according to ESPN.

NFL Network reported earlier Wednesday that Seattle was the front-runner to sign Ansah, adding that no agreement had been finalized and the Buffalo Bills remained interested.

Had a team signed Ansah before Wednesday, he would have factored into the compensatory-pick formula. By waiting, Seattle remains in line to get third-, fourth-, sixth- and seventh-round picks next year as compensation for losing Earl Thomas, Justin Coleman, Shamar Stephen and Brett Hundley, per OverTheCap.com.

Bills general manager Brandon Beane said earlier Wednesday on 1270 The Fan in Buffalo that the team was still in contact with Ansah, and that he wasn’t necessarily buying that the Seahawks were the favorite.

“We’re still in talks with him and his agent,” Beane said. “Everything has been very good. All I’ll say about reports is I don’t buy into that garbage, especially when I consider where some of the sourcing comes from.”

Ansah visited the Baltimore Ravens and then the Seahawks in late April, after meeting the Bills and the New Orleans Saints shortly after free agency opened in mid-March. Coming off of shoulder surgery after missing nine games in 2018, Ansah saw his market be slow to develop as teams monitored his health and recovery.

NFL Network reported last month he is expected to be cleared by mid-August.

Ansah, who will turn 30 on May 29, had four sacks and seven quarterback hits in seven games (two starts) while playing on the franchise tag for the Detroit Lions last season, after posting 12 and 17, respectively, in 2017. His best season came in 2015, when he had 14.5 sacks and 34 QB hits while earning his only Pro Bowl nod.

Drafted fifth overall by Detroit in 2013, Ansah has 48 sacks and 110 quarterback hits in six NFL seasons.

The Seahawks added defensive end L.J. Collier with the 29th overall pick in last month’s draft, but they needed help at the “leo” defensive end spot after trading Frank Clark to the Kansas City Chiefs.

–Field Level Media

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NFL notebook: McVay opens up on Super Bowl loss

NFL notebook: McVay opens up on Super Bowl loss

NFL notebook: McVay opens up on Super Bowl loss

Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay experienced paralysis by analysis in the days before his team lost to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3.

McVay took responsibility for the 13-3 defeat in the immediate aftermath of the game, and he expounded upon his faults in an interview with Sports Illustrated published Wednesday.

“In the back of my mind, (when making the Super Bowl game plan back in L.A.), I operated knowing I had another week,” he said. “That urgency to completely finalize the game plan wasn’t quite there, and that led to me watching so much film that you can almost water down your thought process.”

“You have so much time that you can overprepare and get away from some of the things that helped you get there. I watched every game from New England’s season. You see stuff that worked in, say, Week 3, but you forget about the amount of stuff that’s taken place since Week 3. You can watch so much film that you lose perspective.”

–The Seattle Seahawks have emerged as the front-runner to sign free agent defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, NFL Network reported.

The report indicated no contract was finalized, adding that the Buffalo Bills remain interested after hosting Ansah for a visit in March.

Bills general manager Brandon Beane said on 1270 The Fan in Buffalo that the team is still in contact with Ansah, and that he isn’t necessarily buying that the Seahawks are the favorite.

–Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is paying the funeral expenses for Jaylon McKenzie, the promising eighth-grade football player killed by a stray bullet last weekend in Venice, Ill.

“For him to reach out to me was unbelievable,” McKenzie’s mother, Sukeena Gunner, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

“Jaylon loved Ezekiel Elliott. He talked about him all the time. … For him to reach out to me and help me in this difficult time leaves me speechless.”

–The Carolina Panthers hired recently retired defensive end Julius Peppers as special assistant of business operations.

Team vice president of external affairs Steven Drummond said Peppers will have an office at the team facility and will be in the building several days a week.

–Former Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson said he is suffering from an autonomic disorder that contributed to his decision to step down after the 2017 season.

Thompson, 66, who was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame on Saturday, revealed his diagnosis on the Packers’ official website. He added that medical specialists do not believe he is suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

–Washington Redskins right guard Brandon Scherff said he is 90 percent recovered from a torn pectoral muscle and will be “ready to go” for training camp.

Scherff, 27, sustained the season-ending injury during a 38-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 4.

–Free agent running back Bilal Powell has been cleared to play after a career-threatening neck injury and is looking for an employer.

NFL Network reports Powell sent a letter to NFL teams to say he was “really looking forward to getting back to work.” The 30-year-old sustained a season-ending neck injury with the New York Jets in October and underwent surgery soon after.

–The Indianapolis Colts will induct defensive end Dwight Freeney into their Ring of Honor during a Nov. 10 game against the Miami Dolphins.

The date was confirmed on Twitter by team owner Jim Irsay, who announced Freeney’s selection last week.

–Kansas City signed longtime linebacker Derrick Johnson to a one-day contract so he could retire as a Chief.

Johnson, 36, played his first 13 seasons with the Chiefs, earning four Pro Bowl nods, before playing six games with the Oakland Raiders in 2018.

–Joe Thomas, a former All-Pro offensive tackle with the Cleveland Browns, joined the NFL Network in various on-air roles.

Thomas will be added to the network’s on-location pregame and postgame shows for 13 Thursday night games, as well as coverage of the Super Bowl, NFL Scouting Combine and the draft.

–The Philadelphia Eagles signed safety Blake Countess to a one-year extension, after claiming him off waivers from the Los Angeles Rams last week.

Countess was a restricted free agent but is now under contract through 2020. He was primarily a special teamer for the Rams.

–The New England Patriots waived/injured former Houston and Detroit wideout Bruce Ellington, who was signed in free agency in March.

Ellington caught 31 passes for 224 yards and one touchdown across seven games with the Texans and Lions in 2018.

–The New York Giants signed former Cowboys running back Rod Smith.

Smith had 129 touches for 631 yards and six touchdowns in four years with Dallas, the past three as a backup to Elliott.

–The Chicago Bears signed free agent linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis, who last played for the Jets.

–Field Level Media

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After Masters’ bet, man goes big on Tiger to win Slam

After Masters' bet, man goes big on Tiger to win Slam

James

After Masters’ bet, man goes big on Tiger to win Slam

James Adducci, who took home $1.19 million on a bet when Tiger Woods won the Masters, is again putting his faith in the 15-time major champion.

Adducci took $100,000 of his winnings and placed it on Woods to take the title at all four majors this season, according to Golf Digest, which confirmed the bet through sports book operator William Hill U.S. Adducci placed the bet at SLS Casino in Las Vegas, the same sportsbook where he gambled $85,000 on Woods to win the Masters at 14-to-1 odds.

Adducci, a 39-year-old from Wisconsin, is getting 100-to-1 odds on Woods winning the Grand Slam, which would pay out $10 million.

The second leg of the Grand Slam, the PGA Championship, will be held next week at the Bethpage Black course in Farmingdale, N.Y., with the U.S. Open in June and the British Open in July. Woods is the betting favorite for the PGA Championship at 8-1, according to Westgate Sportsbook.

No golfer has ever won all four modern majors in the same season, although Woods held all four titles at the same time over the 2000 and 2001 seasons. The term Grand Slam was coined in 1930, when Bobby Jones won the British Open, U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and British Amateur.

–Field Level Media

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Cowboys’ Elliott pays funeral costs for slain eighth-grader

Cowboys' Elliott pays funeral costs for slain eighth-grader

Cowboys’ Elliott pays funeral costs for slain eighth-grader

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is paying the funeral expenses for Jaylon McKenzie, the promising eighth-grade football player killed by a stray bullet last weekend.

“For him to reach out to me was unbelievable,” McKenzie’s mother, Sukeena Gunner, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

“Jaylon loved Ezekiel Elliott. He talked about him all the time. When Ezekiel was playing, he would sit in front of the TV. His eyes were glued to the TV, watching him. For him to reach out to me and help me in this difficult time leaves me speechless.”

McKenzie, 14, was featured in an article in Sports Illustrated last November titled: “Six Teens Who Will Rule the Future in Sports.”

He played running back, wide receiver and defensive back at Mason-Clark Middle School in East St. Louis, Ill., and already had Division I college offers from Missouri and Illinois.

Elliott has ties to the area, having played prep football at John Burroughs School in the St. Louis suburb of Ladue, Mo.

–Field Level Media

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Former All-Pro OT Thomas joins NFL Network

Former All-Pro OT Thomas joins NFL Network

Former All-Pro OT Thomas joins NFL Network

Joe Thomas, a former All-Pro offensive tackle with the Cleveland Browns, has joined the NFL Network in various on-air roles.

Thomas will be added to the network’s on-location pregame and postgame shows for 13 Thursday Night Football games this season, starting Sept. 13 when the Carolina Panthers host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Thomas is also slated to appear on the NFL Network’s coverage of the Super Bowl, the NFL Scouting Combine and the draft, as well as various daily programs.

“I am thrilled to join NFL Network and Thursday Night Football,” Thomas said in a statement. “Throughout my playing career, I quickly realized there are few events which can rival the excitement and action of primetime NFL games, and having the chance to be a part of that atmosphere each week is something I greatly look forward to.”

Thomas played 11 seasons with the Browns, earning 10 Pro Bowl invitations and six first-team All-Pro nods. He retired after the 2017 season.

The New York Post reported Wednesday that the NFL Network is being forced to cut $20 million out of its projected budget and has eliminated five shows. The network said it was shifting its programming based on a celebration of the NFL’s 100 season this year.

“As part of an increased investment in programming and content for 2019, NFL Network will unveil several shows geared towards a celebration of the NFL’s 100th season,” an NFL network spokesman, Alex Riethmiller, said in a statement to The Post. “These shows will replace a handful of existing shows from our 2018 schedule.”

–Field Level Media

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Report: Seahawks front-runner for DE Ansah

Report: Seahawks front-runner for DE Ansah

Report: Seahawks front-runner for DE Ansah

The Seattle Seahawks have emerged as the front-runner to sign free agent defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, NFL Network reported Wednesday.

The report says no contract is finalized, adding that the Buffalo Bills remain interested after hosting Ansah for a visit in March.

Bills general manager Brandon Beane said Wednesday on 1270 The Fan in Buffalo that the team is still in contact with Ansah, and that he isn’t necessarily buying that the Seahawks are the favorite.

“We’re still in talks with him and his agent,” Beane said. “Everything has been very good. All I’ll say about reports is I don’t buy into that garbage, especially when I consider where some of the sourcing comes from.”

Ansah visited the Baltimore Ravens and then the Seahawks in late April, after meeting the Bills and the New Orleans Saints shortly after free agency opened in mid-March. Coming off of shoulder surgery after missing nine games in 2018, Ansah’s market has been slow to develop as teams monitor his health and recovery. NFL Network reported last month he is expected to be cleared by mid-August.

Ansah, who will turn 30 on May 29, had four sacks and seven quarterback hits in seven games (two starts) while playing on the franchise tag for the Detroit Lions last season, after posting 12 and 17, respectively, in 2017. His best season came in 2015, when he had 14.5 sacks and 34 QB hits while earning his only Pro Bowl nod.

Drafted fifth overall by Detroit in 2013, Ansah has 48 sacks and 110 quarterback hits in six NFL seasons.

The Seahawks added defensive end L.J. Collier with the 29th overall pick in last month’s draft, but they could still use more help at the “leo” defensive end spot after trading Frank Clark to the Kansas City Chiefs.

–Field Level Media

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Redskins G Scherff targets training camp return

Redskins G Scherff targets training camp return

Redskins G Scherff targets training camp return

Washington Redskins right guard Brandon Scherff said he is 90 percent recovered from a torn pectoral muscle and will be “ready to go” for training camp.

Scherff, 27, sustained the season-ending injury during a 38-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 4.

“I think it was just a fluke injury,” said Scherff, who competed in the Redskins Charity Golf Classic earlier this week. “My arm got caught in a weird position, and my pec popped. There’s nothing you can really train for that injury, but it’s all about getting stronger and eating healthier — I’ve been doing that a lot better — and just not worrying about (the injury). Just going out and playing football.”

Scherff was the Redskins’ first-round pick (fifth overall) in 2015 and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2016 and 2017.

Before the injury, he had started 54 of a possible 56 games.

–Field Level Media

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Freeney to join Colts’ Ring of Honor on Nov. 10

Freeney to join Colts' Ring of Honor on Nov. 10

The Indianapolis Colts will induct defensive

Freeney to join Colts’ Ring of Honor on Nov. 10

The Indianapolis Colts will induct defensive end Dwight Freeney into their Ring of Honor during a Nov. 10 game against the Miami Dolphins.

The date was confirmed Wednesday on Twitter by team owner Jim Irsay, who announced Freeney’s selection last week.

A first-round pick (12th overall) by Indianapolis in 2002, Freeney played 163 games with the Colts from 2002-12. He earned three first-team All-Pro selections, made seven Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl championship during that tenure.

Freeney ranks second in franchise history in sacks (107.5) and forced fumbles (43).

Freeney becomes the 16th member of the Ring of Honor, a group that includes former teammates Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Edgerrin James and Jeff Saturday and former coach Tony Dungy.

–Field Level Media

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McVay regrets ‘overpreparing’ for Super Bowl

McVay regrets 'overpreparing' for Super Bowl

Head coach

McVay regrets ‘overpreparing’ for Super Bowl

Head coach Sean McVay experienced paralysis by analysis in the days before the Los Angeles Rams lost to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3.

McVay took responsibility for the 13-3 loss in the immediate aftermath of the game and expounded upon his faults in an interview with Sports Illustrated.

“In the back of my mind, [when making the Super Bowl game plan back in L.A.], I operated knowing I had another week,” he said. “That urgency to completely finalize the game plan wasn’t quite there, and that led to me watching so much film that you can almost water down your thought process.”

“You have so much time that you can overprepare and get away from some of the things that helped you get there. I watched every game from New England’s season. You see stuff that worked in, say, Week 3, but you forget about the amount of stuff that’s taken place since Week 3. You can watch so much film that you lose perspective. You have 18 games of film you can pore over. And then I even watched the Philly and Atlanta Super Bowls closely.”

McVay said after the Super Bowl that he was outcoached, tipping his hat to Bill Belichick and the Patriots for a better plan and superior execution.

Los Angeles under McVay was No. 2 in scoring in the NFL in 2018.

McVay also told SI that he didn’t take enough time to absorb what it took to become NFC champions.

“I didn’t appreciate it,” McVay said. “I think there’s a lot to be said for the journey, and I appreciated what the season had entailed. But I could have appreciated the week and entirety of the event more. I kept myself kind of isolated because I didn’t want any distraction.”

–Field Level Media

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Ex-Packers GM Thompson reveals nerve disorder

Ex-Packers GM Thompson reveals nerve disorder

Former Green Bay Packers general

Ex-Packers GM Thompson reveals nerve disorder

Former Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson said Wednesday he is suffering from an autonomic disorder that contributed to his decision to step down after the 2017 season.

Thompson, 66, who was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame on Saturday, revealed his diagnosis on the Packers’ official website.

“I have been diagnosed with an autonomic disorder,” Thompson said. “I feel that it’s important to mention that based on the test results and opinions of medical specialists, they feel that I do not fit the profile of someone suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).”

Thompson played linebacker for the Houston Oilers for 10 seasons from 1975-84, appearing in 146 games.

He served as the Packers general manager from 2005-17, helping to build a roster that became a perennial playoff contender and won a championship in Super Bowl XLV following the 2010 season.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, “autonomic nerve disorders (dysautonomia) refer to disorders of autonomic nervous system (ANS). … Symptoms are wide-ranging and can include problems with the regulation of heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, perspiration, and bowel and bladder functions. Other symptoms include fatigue, lightheadedness, feeling faint or passing out (syncope), weakness, and cognitive impairment.”

Thompson, whose current position with the Packers is senior advisor to football operations, thanked the organization for its support.

“The Green Bay community and the fans of the Packers have always been and will continue to be very special to me. It is my hope and belief that I will be able to overcome this disorder,” he wrote.

“Finally, I’d like to ask that you respect the privacy of myself and my family as we move forward.”

–Field Level Media

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Europe opts for three captain’s picks for 2020 Ryder Cup

Europe opts for three captain's picks for 2020 Ryder Cup

European Ryder Cup captain Padraig

Europe opts for three captain’s picks for 2020 Ryder Cup

European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington will use three wild card picks instead of four when his team defends the cup at next year’s event at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.

Nine golfers for the European squad will qualify through the point system. Four will be chosen from points accumulated exclusively in European Tour events, with the next five coming from the World list, where points are gained for starts on any tour.

Europe won the 2018 event in Paris, when captain Thomas Bjorn made four at-large selections.

“I have said on many occasions that one of the reasons for recent European success in the Ryder Cup is continuity,” Harrington said via Golf Digest. “It is a theme that will be prevalent across my captaincy and I think you can see that in the overall qualification process for the 2020 team.

“Having said that, I am pleased that the (European Tour) tournament committee agreed to the change of wild card numbers. I have spoken to a number of people regarding the ninth player automatically qualifying for the team and, in my experience, a player is more comfortable when he has qualified, hence my reasoning behind this change.”

The 43rd Ryder Cup will be played on the Straits Course at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis., from Sept. 25-27, 2020. The U.S. team, led by captain Steve Stricker, will use four captain’s picks.

–Field Level Media

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Panthers give retired Peppers an office job

Panthers give retired Peppers an office job

After years of pounding quarterbacks on

Panthers give retired Peppers an office job

After years of pounding quarterbacks on Sundays, Julius Peppers will punch the clock from Monday to Friday as the Carolina Panthers’ newest office hire.

The team announced Wednesday that they are giving the recently retired defensive end the title of special assistant, business operations.

“Julius is a special person and he will help us in a variety of ways,” Panthers vice president of external affairs Steven Drummond said. “His role is part special projects on the business side and part ambassadorship. We are giving him an opportunity to work in several parts of our business while also helping us engage and grow our business with fans and partners. He will be a tremendous asset.”

Drummond said Peppers will have an office at the team facility and will be in the building several days a week.

Peppers, 39, ranks fourth on the NFL’s all-time sacks chart with 159.5, including 97 during his 10 seasons with the Panthers (2002-09 and 2017-18).

The No. 2 overall pick by Carolina in the 2002 draft, Panthers also played for the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers during a 17-year career that included 11 interceptions, 52 forced fumbles and 266 games played. He made nine Pro Bowls and was a three-time first-team All-Pro.

–Field Level Media

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