NFL picks and predictions, Packers vs. Bears 2014: Green Bay getting love on road

The Green Bay Packers (1-2) and the Chicago Bears (2-1) meet this Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field, with experts virtually split on who will earn an important victory. Green Bay comes in 1-2 after a loss to the Detroit Lions while the Bears are riding high after consecutive road wins over the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets in primetime.

That the official sent and received confirmation for the deliver is not new — the AP reported it two weeks ago. At the time however, the anonymous official asked the AP not to report that the packaged was addressed directly to Miller.

After the initial report, the league stood by its long held stance that it had never seen the video, but Roger Goodell left the door open on the possibility that it was received and never passed along.

“If there’s a delivery sitting under someone’s desk there will be consequences,” the commissioner told Norah O’Donnell of CBS.

The AP notes that there are two NFL executives named Jeffrey Miller.

The question of who is starting under center is not the only controversy swirling around a 1-2 Dolphins team that has been manhandled in its last two losses against the Chiefs and Buffalo Bills. The Dolphins’ defensive players also were reportedly “beyond furious, irate” at the game plan created by defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle in their 34-15 loss to Kansas City in Week 3. Miami gave up 342 yards and five touchdowns to a Chiefs team that entered the game with one of the league’s worst offenses this season.

All this has added up to an uncomfortable situation in Miami, where Philbin remains firmly on the hot seat while the Dolphins try to avoid a sixth straight season without a playoff berth. In fact, Bovada currently has Philbin at 3-to-1 odds to be the first coach fired this season, behind only Raiders head coach Dennis Allen (3-to-2).4

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Detroit won six of nine games to move into the East’s eighth and final playoff berth entering the All-Star break

“As I’ve said before, every name on our roster has come up. That’s his job. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing. There hasn’t been a serious discussion about Andre, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been discussions about Andre. The concern, I guess, would be from Andre’s standpoint if nobody had any interest in him.”

Asked by local reporters Tuesday night about dealing with trade speculation for the first time in his career, Drummond said: “That’s just the way it is. Everybody’s name gets thrown around when you’re a high-profile guy. My name happened to be in there. I’m not mad or anything like that. I’m still here to play basketball. Whatever happens happens. I can’t control that.”?

ESPN.com reported last month that Caldwell-Pope — who will be a restricted free agent this summer — had joined Drummond on Detroit’s short list of untouchables. To part with Caldwell-Pope, sources say Detroit would expect at least one future first-round pick and front-line player in return.

Despite the Pistons’ well-chronicled struggles and team tension since Jackson’s return from a 21-game injury absence to start the season, Detroit won six of nine games to move into the East’s eighth and final playoff berth entering the All-Star break. The Pistons play 13 of their final 25 games at home.

Brewers manager Craig Counsell, who spent 16 seasons in the major leagues as a player, told ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick that he hopes the league and the union continue to have a dialogue over ways to enhance the entertainment value of the game without making too many drastic changes.

“I think it’s important for us to get together and figure out issues about the pace of the game, and it’s best to get everybody’s opinion,” Counsell said. “We’re starting to understand the answers aren’t easy. Change is hard for all of us. But I do think it’s an issue we should keep on the front burner and be cognizant of. I think we can do better without making [fundamental] changes to the game.”235002299890916151-C201-2

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Talking technique with offensive linemen at the NFL Combine

It was a chaotic day at the NFL Combine on Wednesday, and while general managers and head coaches were getting grilled on the main stage, offensive linemen and tight ends were the real main event. I decided to focus in on the offensive line group in particular and it’s a fairly deep, talented and diverse group of players this year.

Making the jump to the pro level is difficult for any position group, obviously, but when it comes to the trenches, a solid understanding of fundamental techniques of playing offensive line is an absolute must. You’re no longer consistently bigger or stronger than the guy in front of you, and the margin for error becomes razor thin. So, what skills, attributes, or talents do you have that sets yourself apart from other players in the draft? It was a question that fellow media members and I made sure to ask of just about every one of these linemen.

“I think I play at a very low level, and I think I’m athletic and strong,” said South Carolina guard A.J. Cann. “For a guard, I think I’m really athletic. I’m quick, and I think I can basically block anybody if I put my mind to it.”

Cann also talked about another fundamental aspect of guard play picking up slants and twists by defensive linemen. “We are taught that if you are blocking somebody and your man slants out, you have to have your head on a swivel because anybody can be coming at any different angle so you have to be ready to block. A lot of guys [in the SEC] run stunts, especially in pass situations. You have a lot of twist games and a lot of slants on a angle. That’s why your head has to be on a swivel.”

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Panthers in no-lose situation if they use franchise tag on Kawann Short

The clock officially is ticking on Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short.

Either a long-term deal will be reached before March 1, or the franchise tag will be applied between Wednesday (first official day to use the tag) and then while the two sides continue to work toward a long-term deal.

Coach Ron Rivera said during Super Bowl week that the tag “probably” will be used. It may not be applied Wednesday as Carolina wants to show it is negotiating long-term in good faith. The list of possibilities for Peterson is probably longer than those three teams, but if he did become a free agent, it would take the right set of circumstances — a team close to winning, a role at running back and possibly a personal connection — for him to land there. Here’s a look at some of the places Peterson could end up, some more realistic than others.

The Hall of Fame selection process is supposed to be solely about the players’ on-field accomplishments; that point was again hammered home this year by voters who discussed Owens’ exclusion. But I would be remiss if I failed to mention Urlacher’s popularity inside the locker room. Urlacher didn’t use the media to deliver messages. He was a true leader, not some phony locker room politician. Urlacher was a person almost everyone in the building looked up to and respected. It’s no surprise the Bears’ locker room leadership fell off a cliff when Urlacher was forced out after 2012. The Bears have never filled that void.

No one is perfect. Urlacher probably has some regrets — the most obvious being the Bears’ inability to win a Super Bowl.

But Urlacher carried himself with dignity and class on the field and at Halas Hall for 13 years.

He is a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word.

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Don’t mess with Marquand Manuel during pregame warm-ups.

Ben Roethlisberger would put the Steelers squarely in the first category if not for the noise he made recently about potential retirement. The expectation is that Roethlisberger will play in 2017, but if he’s thinking about the end, the Steelers have to be thinking about what comes next. Big Ben turns 35 in March.

Same with 2015 MVP Cam Newton, whose completion percentage dipped to an abysmal, career-low 52.9 in 2016. Was it a Super Bowl hangover? Or was it closer to what we can expect from Newton going forward? He’ll turn 28 in May, so there’s plenty of time left.

Don’t mess with Marquand Manuel during pregame warm-ups. You’re liable to catch some heat.

On any given game day, you’ll see the 37-year-old with his headphones on, drowning out the noise as he bobs his head to the beat. He’ll run a few laps around the stadium with a menacing stare on his face, like an assassin fixated on his next victim.

Folks unfamiliar with the Atlanta Falcons likely would mistake Manuel for a player. His players view him as a guy who will cuss anybody out, make no mistake about it. That’s part of the reason why Manuel commands respect as he makes the leap from secondary coach to defensive coordinator, a move made official Friday.

“M, he’s a perfectionist,” free safety Ricardo Allen said of Manuel. “He knows the ins and outs of every player. He does the studying. He has the passion to lead. He’s a natural leader. And people are willing to follow him.”

Falcons coach Dan Quinn promoted longtime colleague Marquand Manuel, right, to defensive coordinator.

Manuel is a coach willing to put on cleats, line up opposite his defensive backs and get physical with them off the line. His hands-on approach and aggressive style just might be the added push the Falcons need to elevate an improving defense to yet another level.

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Does he want a return to the Vikings?

The Lions have been trying really hard to turn Stafford into an unstoppable throw-bot, but only have a lot of ultimately wasted draft picks to show for it. Since Stafford was drafted in 2009, the Lions have had a terrible time selecting offensive skill players. Jahvid Best (No. 30 overall, 2010) and Titus Young (No. 44, 2011) are already out of the league for reasons that were mostly out of their control. Ryan Broyles (No. 54, 2012) has only appeared in 21 games in three seasons due to injuries.

The verdict is still out on tight end Eric Ebron (No. 10 overall, 2014). Unfortunately, his rookie season looked a lot like that of teammate Brandon Pettigrew (No. 20, 2009), the Lions’ other first-round tight end. Ebron struggled with dropped passes in college, through the pre-draft process, into training camp and during the regular season, dropping four of his 47 targets to finish with 25 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown.

Does he want a return to the Vikings? Does he want a fresh start elsewhere?

Peterson says he is “uneasy” about a Vikings return due to his view of a lack of full support by the franchise during his child abuse case. His father, Nelson, says the possibility of a Vikings restoration exists, but that Peterson’s camp blames Vikings chief operating officer Kevin Warren for fighting against his son’s return to the field last season.

Owners and executives across several NFL tracks that I spoke with this week are scratching their heads over Peterson’s approach.

Think about that. Consider the titanic emotional upheaval, the mental flips required to stay humble when so high, to rise from ashes when piercingly crushed.

A Federal judge ruled in favor of Peterson on Thursday, overturning his suspension. He turns 30 on March 21.

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