McCarron technically should have been a restricted free agent with the Bengals this offseason because of his number of accrued seasons.

He filed a grievance against the Bengals, claiming that they shouldn’t have placed him on IR in his rookie season. He won.

That gave teams another starting quarterback option in free agency. And McCarron, who showed promise in 2015 filling in for an injured Andy Dalton but hasn’t played consistently since, should come much cheaper than Cousins.

Unless the specific contract terms make this a friendlier deal for the Bears, this looks like a very aggressive deal from Pace.

This also adds to the allure of the top pitching options — both in the form of starters and relievers — as well as increasing the demand for the more favorable matchups. Here again, the supply of good spot-starting scenarios is reduced, increasing the price of the desirable options.

Looking ahead to the playoffs, the Jets will take a more conservative approach to Scheifele’s recovery from a recent upper-body injury. Sitting second, somewhat comfortably, in the Central, the Winnipeg club has the luxury of resting their top center while skating Bryan Little (or maybe shifting Blake Wheeler back to the middle) on the top line for now. Scheifele’s fantasy managers may want to move some players around in the meanwhile.

Coach Guy Boucher speaking to Stone’s absence with a leg injury: It could be short, it could be a little longer, it could be very long.

It’s a high bar, but I never have to wonder if I have seen what it takes to achieve it. My mouth has a mind of its own, so when a draft prospect makes a play that is deserving, the cuss words just come tumbling right on out.

Hell, I would have never guessed he was listed at 344 pounds from watching his tape. The way he carries that weight and how he moves around on the field suggested to me he was a much lighter dude. Keep in mind that Suh weighed closer to 300 pounds when he was coming out at close to the same listed height. Vea damn sure looks pretty fast on film at that weight, so I didn’t care very much what his 40-yard dash time was. But he ran a 4.98 at the combine.

While much of his success in the games I watched was largely due to brute strength, Vea also showed he could win with finesse too.

Imagine trying to pass block against a guy who had previously used a hump move to knock you on your ass, then ran over you and your home boy with a bull rush, only to see him hit you with a quick arm over when you finally set for power.

The Jags’ defense will do work, but Bortles is such a wild card it’s nearly impossible to trust their offense.

red_wings_015At 1:05 p.m. ET Sunday, the Steelers will have all available hands-on-deck, and it will be only up to the players if they are able to put together a winning performance. After all, they don’t have banged up players as an excuse if the team falls flat.

This game could get out of hand if Pittsburgh jumps out to an early lead and an inexperienced Jags squad loses the plot. On the other hand, Jacksonville could easily pull a 2000 Baltimore Ravens if Bortles does his best Trent Dilfer impression — they can’t be written off that easily. Let’s say the Steelers take it by two possessions, but it stays close throughout.

“Stability at the position is hard to find, no question,” GM Bob Quinn told me Wednesday night. “And the position is becoming increasingly difficult to scout in college football with the high percentage of teams using a version of a spread offense. You really draft quarterback traits and hope they transfer to the NFL game.”

Because he inherited Stafford, Quinn doesn’t have to follow his own advice. And he doesn’t really want to be in that position either.

The term has been used so liberally the past several months that I felt like it’d behoove me—and the readers here—to actually look up the definition of “blackball.” Thanks to Merriam-Webster for furnishing it:

In this week’s Game Plan, we’ll check back on the Bears and how their plan for and perception of Mitch Trubisky has shifted after his big preseason; see how the draft’s forgotten quarterback is faring so far; explain why the Lions did not in any way overpay for Matthew Stafford; take a look at how the Texans have pulled together in their city’s time of crisis; and check in on the trade and free-agent markets ahead of the cutdown.

We start with the Kaepernick story that won’t go away, and why it’s lasted as long as it has. The main thing I learned? Teams didn’t have many internal discussions about Kaepernick. The level of interest in him as a player was such that the football people I talked to never even brought it to their owners to discuss whether or not his social stances were going to be a problem for them.

NFL scores: Week 16 results, highlights

Week 16 in the NFL was all about the playoff picture, so multiple teams were watching scoreboards Sunday. After Saturday’s results, 10 teams entered Sunday and Monday with chances to clinch something, be it home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, a first-round bye, a division title or a postseason berth.

Sunday’s early games were highlighted by a contest that will go a long way in deciding the NFC South. The Saints’ win over the Falcons means New Orleans is a win away from the division title. The Panthers, who beat Buccaneers on Sunday, are lurking in case the Saints slip in Week 17.

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After selecting Myles Garrett No. 1 overall this spring, Cleveland will become the first team to pick at the top of the draft in consecutive years since, yes, the Browns in 1999 and 2000. Cleveland took Tim Couch and Courtney Brown with those back-to-back No. 1 picks.

Garrett was one of the few signs of life in another disheartening performance Sunday. The rookie made a potentially game-changing interception on the opening drive of the second half, picking off Mitchell Trubisky and returning it to the Bears’ 5-yard line with Cleveland trailing only 6-3. But Carl Nassib was flagged for lining up offsides, negating the big play, and Jordan Howard scored four plays later. The Browns never sniffed the lead again.

“That part’s inexcusable,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said of the Nassib penalty. “… It’s just not where we need to be.”

With another loss in the books, the stakes for Jackson’s team in Week 17 are straightforward. A loss at the playoff-bound Steelers on New Year’s Eve will give the Browns the second 0-16 season in NFL history, joining the 2008 Lions.

The two tackling machines talked barely above a whisper, Oliver’s hands torquing to illustrate a point.

Bryant missed the final four games of the season, but he still ranked second on the team in receiving with 22 catches and 331 yards. The yardage total also ranked second among Power 5 true freshman tight ends.

Dimukeje’s 7.5 tackles for loss were tops among ACC freshmen. He chipped in with 39 tackles, two sacks and four QB hurries to go with an interception in a critical win over Georgia Tech. Dimukeje’s impact was huge for a Blue Devils defense that allowed eight fewer points per game than it had in 2016.

Those stadium and temperature factors are the type of things NFL coaches should know when scouting an opponent and a venue. McCarthy made the wrong decision and it cost Green Bay as the Steelers took advantage of the field position and drove 53 yards in six plays for a touchdown.

We have become accustomed to Rodgers’ heroics but he would have needed to have monster game to outshine Hundley and lead the Packers to a road win against the NFL’s No. 2 defense.

“Every guy in here, they have looked and seen who has already played against who,” Mayfield explained. “We’ve all already watched film of the team we’re playing in our games, but nothing beats real game experience. So, if you really watch this week you’ll see guys grabbing other guys and asking for tips on their next opponent.”

In that very room with the two Sooners sat Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith. He kept his distance from Mayfield, the quarterback he’ll be charged with stopping in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual on Jan. 1. Smith stayed on the back row of the conference room, throwing down on a bag of Chick-Fil-A. But as soon as Mayfield was pulled out of that room to knock out a TV interview, Smith jumped up and went straight to Ed Oliver, the Houston defensive lineman who burst onto the national scene in 2016 by making Mayfield’s day miserable.eagles_024_fdc446662e2b7db4-180x180

High school football’s greatest rivalry: Muck City

The towns of Pahokee and Belle Glade are about 17 miles apart. Between them, they have a population of fewer than 30,000. Both have struggled economically with the mechanization of sugar cane farms, by far the largest industry in the area. That cane grows in a rich soil known by the locals as “The Muck.”

There’s something else Belle Glade and Pahokee produce: professional football players. Anquan Boldin, Travis Benjamin, Reidel Anthony, and Pernell McPhee are just a handful of the current and former NFL players who hail from this small part of South Florida, and they know The Muck gave them the foundation they needed to succeed, physically and mentally, at the next level.

That’s partially thanks to the rivalry between the two towns, who face off every year in the Muck Bowl. To the people of Pahokee and Belle Glade, it’s the biggest — and maybe only — game on the calendar each season.

Lions 7, Giants 7: New York spent the final few minutes of the first quarter trekking through the Lions’ defense, then made on the first play of the second quarter with an Eli Manning touchdown pass to Evan Engram. The eight-play, 75-yard drive was all about Manning, who has already spread the ball around to five different receivers for six completions.

Engram did get busted for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the touchdown for grabbing his crotch, however. Gotta be careful out there!

Lions 7, Giants 0: Taking advantage of the good field position afforded by a three-and-out on the Giants’ opening drive, the Lions drove down the field and got on the scoreboard with a 27-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Marvin Jones.

Cam Newton leaves game with leg injury vs. Bills, returns without missing a snap

Cam Newton was sacked by the Buffalo Bills in the third quarter and stayed down before limping off the field. The injury was ruled an ankle problem by the team, but Newton returned on the next drive without missing a play.

Newton hobbled off the field to the sideline where he was evaluated in the team’s medical tent. The sack came on third down, so the Bills took over on offense, but Anderson was warming up on the sideline after the sack.

The difference between Russell Wilson’s pass in that Super Bowl, and Derek Carr’s on Sunday, is that Carr’s worked.

It’s not the first funny audible we’ve heard this season. In fact, another was also named after a Super Bowl disaster.

Dak Prescott called an audible named “Shanahan” during the Cowboys’ Sunday Night Football game in Week 1. It was a zone running play, in reference to how former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan didn’t run the ball enough in Super Bowl LI.

Keep those ears open during the games. You might catch something you didn’t expect.

Nothing really happening in this game. Some poor play by Watson and Dalton, who have been off with their throws most of the night. It’s a classic Thursday Night Football slopfest.

Texans 3, Bengals 3 Cincy can’t take advantage of Green’s huge play and settle for a field goal, scoring their first points of the 2017 NFL season.

First quarter: Texans 3, Bengals 0
Dalton ended the quarter with a beautiful bomb to A.J. Green, who beat three Texans defenders because he’s A.J. Dang Green.

Texans 3, Bengals 0 John Ross’s first NFL carry could not Matt Jones Womens Jersey have gone any worse. Kareem Jackson punched the ball out of his hands and Jadeveon Clowney scooped it up for a 49-yard return, setting up the Texans in field goal John Riggins Womens Jersey range.

The talent drain has mirrored the nosedive in wins.

That recent dominance is what Tomlin is asking his team to find the emotional energy to avenge. The added beef about the teams’ relative divisional playoff game times is a facade for the Steelers facing total disrespect as underdogs.

Tomlin can go big in his motivation and talk about how the Patriots gained advantages with their spying and deflating scandals. He can go small and tell his team the Patriots only won in Heinz Field back in Week 7 because they were with Rob Gronkowski and the Steelers were without Ben Roetlhisberger.

The numbers dont tell the whole story, but they tell a lot of it. Since that Richard Sherman interception in the end zone that sealed their 23-17 loss to the Seahawks in January 2014, the 49ers have gone 15-32. Since Thanksgiving 2014, theyre 8-28.

That’s under three coaches, Harbaugh, Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly. When they replace Kelly as expected, theyll have four in four seasons.

The talent drain has mirrored the nosedive in wins. Ironically, one of the few key components of those contenders, Colin Kaepernick, has survived. Virtually everything around him on both sides of the ball has changed, though.

Michael Crabtree, the target of the end-zone throw in that NFC title game, is gone. So are Frank Gore, Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati, Alex Boone, Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Chris Culliver, Tarell Brown and Donte Whitner.

NaVorro Bowman has been injured twice since that game (notably including during that game). Rookie Chris Borland arrived the next season, then retired after that lone season.

Sheldon Richardson can’t stop taking shots at former Jets teammate Brandon Marshall

They already own the team, so why not make the GM a member of the community, too? Packers fans love their team, and you’d better believe that if given the reins, they’d find a way to be successful. Of course, a lot of the decisions would also probably be crowdsourced.

Sheldon Richardson was never shy about making his disgust for Brandon Marshall public when the two were teammates. Now that Marshall is no longer a Jet, he’s still taking shots at the mercurial wide receiver.

Richardson, who once told Marshall “he should be embarrassed” after New York suffered a 41-3 loss at the hands of the Patriots, ripped the wideout again Tuesday. When asked what has changed in the locker room between this season and last, the big defensive lineman made a not-so-veiled jab at his former teammate.

“I enjoy being here,” Richardson said, via Connor Hughes of “Locker room is a whole lot easier to get along with now.”

When reporters prodded him on why, the lineman took the bait.

“Let’s just say there are 15 reasons why it’s better.”

Marshall has worn No. 15 with three of his four franchises he’s played with, including the Jets.

Myles Garrett was the no-brainer No. 1 pick Browns had to make

It’s finally official now — the Cleveland Browns have taken Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, despite rumors they may take Mitchell Trubisky. The Browns tried to play coy about whether they’d select Garrett, but we knew it was coming all along.

Garrett even gave the Browns a playful warning before the draft.

“If you don’t draft me No. 1, I will punish your team for the next 10 to 12 years,” he told ESPN the Magazine. It seems those weren’t dice they wanted to roll.

In 2016, he threw a pick every 29.75 attempts, a bit worse than the already worrying averages by top prospects Deshaun Watson (35.7) and DeShone Kizer (36.6). Consistent accuracy is Dobbs’ No. 1 needed improvement.

But in 2015, he had one of the nation’s best ratios, averaging 68.8 attempts per INT. So he’s got it in him to pass to the right team! More on 2016 in a second.

More troubling overall is his pattern of fumbles, considering his relatively small hands, though all running QBs fumble. In 2015, he had only one more fumble than Dak Prescott, for whatever that’s worth.

Draft experts are torn on where Peppers will land. A collection of mock drafts — the most recent ones coming on April 20 — peg the Michigan standout anywhere from the top of the first round to the bottom of the second.

Hooker’s seven interceptions were tied for second-most in all of college football last season, and he’s dangerous once he gets the ball in his hands. His three pick-sixes tied him for the most in the FBS last year.

Hooker was the second Ohio State defensive back drafted this year. Now he’s ready to begin the next chapter of his football life with the Colts.yankees_802-115x115

Will the Warriors and Trail Blazers go to Game 5? If they do, there’s a slight conflict.

The Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers will face off in the first round of the playoffs, and the Warriors will almost surely win. They’re a historically good team who just saw Kevin Durant return to the lineup, and an upset seems pretty implausible.

Expecting the Warriors will sweep the Blazers, though, feels a bit presumptuous. No one on Golden State is expecting that, to be fair. But is the NBA?

There is also a chance he returns for his 21st season, a feat only Parrish and Willis have accomplished.

Nowitzki averaged just 14.2 points last season, the second-fewest of his 19 seasons in the league, as the elder statesman of a Dallas team whose 33-49 record was its worst of the century.

The German forward did, however, crack the 30K mark this year. His 30,260 points ranks him sixth all time behind only Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Kobe, Karl Malone, and Abdul-Jabaar. Nowitzki could move ahead of Chamberlain if he averaged 14.1 points across 82 games, 16.5 points across 70 games, or 21 points across 55 games.

Nowitzki enjoyed the highlights of his illustrious career between 2001 and 2012 when he dominated the NBA as the most skilled stretch-four the league had seen. In his best statistical season, he averaged 26 points (on 39.9 percent three-point shooting) and 9.7 rebounds per game.

Nowitzki is one of only seven players in NBA history to join the 50-40-90 club (50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three, 90 percent from the line). The other six are Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry.