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What we learned Sunday: J.J. Watt is a beast, Steve Smith is awesome and Adam Vinatieri is ageless 09.28.14 at 8:55 pm ET
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With the Patriots set to play Monday night, here’s a quick look at what we learned around the league Sunday, mostly from a New England perspective.

1. J.J. Watt could be an MVP.

Remarkably, the last defensive player to win MVP was Lawrence Taylor in 1986, but if he continues on his current path, Houston’s J.J. Watt could certainly make a case to be the next defensive player to take home the honor. The defensive lineman had six quarterback hurries and a pass defense before picking off an EJ Manuel pass and rumbling 80 yards for the pick-six to help lift the Texans past the Bills.

Through the first three games, the Patriots offense has five touchdowns. Watt has two of his own this year, and is just the second player since the merger with a receive touchdown and interception in the same season. (Ex-Pats linebacker and current Houston assistant Mike Vrabel was the first to turn the trick back in 2005.)

2. EJ Manuel is apparently suffering from a crisis of confidence. The second-year Buffalo quarterback was apparently pretty shaken in the wake of Sunday’s loss to the Texans. Manuel ended the day 21-for-44 for 225 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions against the Texans as the Bills lost their second straight to fall to 2-2 on the young season. To be fair, things were a little shaky around Manuel, given the fact that his offensive line was struggling, there were a couple of key drops and the fire-breathing monster known as Watt was on the other side of the ball. Coach Doug Marrone said after the game there were no plans to hand the reins to backup Kyle Orton, but the idea of jumpstarting the offense with a switch at quarterback has to be entering the minds of the Buffalo coaching staff.

3. Maybe the Dolphins weren’t as dysfunctional as we thought. The week of back-and-forth between Miami coach Joe Philbin and quarterback Ryan Tannehill ended Sunday in London, where the Dolphins absolutely crushed the Raiders, 38-14, at Wembley Stadium. Tannehill, who engaged in a weird public exchange with his coach after Philbin refused to name him the starter in the media, was an impressive 23-for-31 for 278 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Meanwhile, the Raiders, who looked good last week when they came to Foxboro and put a scare in the Patriots, were a mess. Their issues were compounded by the fact that rookie quarterback Derek Carr left the game in the third quarter, and told the media after the game that he has a high ankle sprain and sprained MCL. Yikes.

4. The Jets are in trouble. New York struggled at home against the Lions, and it was another bad outing for quarterback Geno Smith, who was 17-for-33 for 209 yards, one touchdown and one pick in a 24-17 loss to Detroit. After the game, Rex Ryan said he was standing by Smith. “I’m confident in Geno. If Geno’s healthy, then Geno Smith will start,” Ryan told reporters after the game. “I’m not gonna replace him. I feel good about Geno, and again, I think he’s gonna get it turned. He’s a tough, resilient young man, and I think we’re gonna win.” Meanwhile, it doesn’t sound like Jets fans are going to stand by Geno.

Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson told reporters after the game that fans who were booing Smith should “shut up.” Yikes.

5. Not everyone needs a punter.

Sunday’s game between the Packers and Bears was either the second or third game in NFL history without a punt. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 302 yards and four touchdowns in the 38-17 win over Chicago. The Packers, who had been suffering from offensive inconsistency over the course of the first three games of the year, scored on their first six possessions and finished with 358 total yards on the way to their fifth consecutive victory at Soldier Field. It was a bit of a redemption for Rodgers, who told Green Bay fans to “R-E-L-A-X” this week when they started worrying about the Packers‘ 1-2 start.

6. No one knows what to make of the Steelers.

There are weeks where the Steelers look ready to crush all those who come before them. Then, there are occasions like Sunday, where they melt down in the fourth quarter and end up losing a game to a Tampa Bay team ‘€¦ that lost to the Falcons by six touchdowns a week ago. Mike Glennon hit Vincent Jackson with the game-winner with six seconds left on the way to a shocking 27-24 win over host Pittsburgh. The Steelers, who were poised to move to 3-1 with the win, fell back to .500 with the surprising last-second loss. (Pittsburgh committed a whopping 13 penalties for 125 yards.)

7. Steve Smith is never not awesome.

As promised, the gritty receiver one-upped his old team. The former Panther lit up Carolina for seven catches — including an awesome reception on a tipped ball he ended up taking for a touchdown — for 139 yards and a pair of scores on the way to a 38-10 win over the Panthers. There wasn’t “blood and guts” like he promised, but Smith, who played 13 seasons in Carolina before he was cut in the offseason, clearly enjoyed making his old team eat a little crow after the contest. “I’m 35 years old and I ran by those guys like they were schoolyard kids,” the veteran said after the game. Meanwhile, while we were all upset about the state of the Panthers’ offense, it’s worth noting that Carolina has yielded 75 points in two games.

I want to know what this kid is thinking.

8. Adam Vinatieri is some sort of superhuman.

It’s remarkable to think that the former Patriots kicker is now in his ninth season in Indy, and while the 41-year-old isn’t the kicker he once was, he’s still money when it comes to working extra points and field goals. Through four games, he’s 8-for-8 on field goal attempts and 16-for-16 on extra-point attempts, including a pair of field goals and five extra points Sunday in the 41-17 win over the Titans.

Oh, and this happened 18 years ago.

9. Chip Kelly can feel Bill Belichick‘s pain.

Philly went West on Sunday and nearly knocked off the Niners, despite the fact that the Eagles continue to have serious offensive line issues. Pro Bowl left guard Evan Mathis went down in Week 1, and with starting right tackle Lane Johnson already serving a four-game suspension, things got even worse when starting center Jason Kelce went down last week with a sports hernia. Despite those woes, Philly nearly pulled off the upset, despite the fact that the Eagles’ offense didn’t pass midfield until the fourth quarter and it had just two more first downs (five) than turnovers (three) late in the third quarter. Things should get better next week when Johnson is eligible to return from his ban, but the fact that Kelce and Mathis won’t be back until the second half of the season should provide some interesting phone conversation between BFF’s Kelly and Belichick when it comes to commiserating about their woes.

10. The Patriots are in first place.

The Bills’ loss to the Texans in Houston allowed the 2-1 Patriots to sneak into first place in the AFC East.

Read More: aaron rodgers, Adam Vinatieri, Bill Belichick, Chip Kelly
Fantasy Football: Quarterback rankings 07.31.14 at 3:06 pm ET
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WEEI_FantasyFootball_2014_hdr

Last week we took a look at the top 50 wide receivers. This week we will get into the signal callers and break them down into tiers as we did with the receivers. Jim Hackett and I will get even deeper into the quarterbacks in our weekly podcast that will be posted tomorrow. I am also pleased to announce that Jim and I will be hosting a new show on WEEI 93.7 called “The Fantasy Football Hour.” Our first episode airs Aug. 10 at 7:30 a.m., and we’ll be on every Sunday throughout the NFL season. If you missed my article on high-value targets, give it a read. It points out some nice value opportunities based on average draft position.

2014 features perhaps the deepest group of fantasy quarterbacks I’ve ever seen. For years, Rotobahn has been preaching patience when drafting passers — and never has that approach been more prudent than it is for this season. There simply is no way you can get shut out at the position. Sure, some outcomes are better than others, but you are not taking a big risk by waiting on a quarterback because, quite simply, they will not be depleted unless you are playing in a league that allows teams to start more than one quarterback.

If you are looking for more information on any particular quarterback or player, go to rotobahn.com and check out our top 400. If your player isn’t listed there, you should strongly consider getting him off of your redraft board.

Tier 1 (1)

Peyton Manning, Broncos

Yes, for fantasy purposes he’s all alone. If there is a valid argument for taking an early quarterback, it’s Manning’s scoring gap over second place. Even though I expect a mild statistical regression, there’€™s still Manning and then everybody else. Yes, he lost a very reliable option when Eric Decker signed with the Jets, but the Broncos added Emmanuel Sanders and drafted Cody Latimer. Latimer has a skill set that ultimately could make Denver fans forget about Eric Decker. Check out Latimer’s Rotobahn scouting report if you haven’t already.

Tier 2 (2-3)

Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Drew Brees, Saints

Just about all of Rodgers’ arrows are pointing up. As long as he avoids another season-ending injury, he’s about as safe as it gets as a performer and his receivers are talented and deeply immersed in the Green Bay offense. Brees is the definition of consistency. That’s why he’s an elite option, and that’s why people overdraft him in most leagues. Though he’s showing some signs of age, that should be counter-balanced by the influx of young receivers. We are very high on Kenny Stills, who played 60 percent of the offensive snaps as a rookie, and this year’s first-round selection, Brandin Cooks. This could give Brees the kind of shot in the arm that Manning got from Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker in 2012.

Tier 3 (4-7)

Matt Stafford, Lions
Andrew Luck, Colts
Nick Foles, Eagles
Robert Griffin III, Washington

By my math, you have three very secure options at the top of this tier. Stafford, Luck and Foles all are in very good situations and they’re all big strong-armed passers with quality targets. Griffin also has quality targets, and we like new head coach/offensive coordinator Jay Gruden‘s offense in terms of its flexibility. Griffin is the lottery ticket of the group. He is one of the few players who could outscore everybody, but the injury risks are obvious and real. If you do choose to roll the bones on RGIII, you’ll want to back him up with a strong option, ideally from the next tier.

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Read More: 2014 Fantasy Football, aaron rodgers, Andrew Luck, Drew Brees
Tom Brady tops ESPN anonymous NFL insider poll for best quarterback in NFL 07.02.14 at 12:31 pm ET
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Tom Brady will turn 37 years old in a month, but that doesn’t mean the quarterback is losing any respect among top league insiders.

In an ESPN poll (insider only), NFL Insider Mike Sando anonymously polled 26 league insiders, including eight general managers, two former general managers, four pro personnel evaluators, seven coordinators, two head coaches, two position coaches and a top executive to get their ranking on each of the projected 32 starting NFL quarterbacks. The rankings were given on a 1-5 scale, with one being the best and five the worst. Sando then was able to separate the quarterbacks into tiers, 1-4.

Brady came out at the top with a 1.04 average rating, tying Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Those four and Andrew Luck (1.5 average ranking) made up the first tier. Only one voter did not put Brady in the top tier as that pro personnel evaluator only had Manning in tier 1.

“Brady did a lot of good things with limited resources, but I saw holes when they put the onus on him to carry it all, as you saw when Denver beat him,” the personnel evaluator said. “Brady has to have more of a running game at this stage. He cannot line up with five wides and win it as consistently as before. I still think Brady is a top-five quarterback, but I would not say he is the best right now.”

Another veteran offensive assistant doesn’t see things the same way and said Brady, Manning and Brees were all pretty much interchangeable.

“Brady might be the best because he does it with the least every year, just about,” the offensive assistant said. “To me, there is no falloff with that guy. If he played with what Rodgers and Peyton and Brees have played with, it would not even be close. He has not had an outside guy since Randy Moss. These other guys have outside guys coming out of their ears, especially Peyton and Rodgers. It is such a difference when you have outside guys that can stretch, like Manning had in Indy. Then he’d kill you with the inside guys. Brady doesn’t have half the skill players that Manning has. The thing that is scary is that sneakily, the Patriots were pretty good last year anyway.”

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Read More: aaron rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady
Numbers game: Tom Brady can move up several all-time statistical lists in 2014 06.23.14 at 1:43 pm ET
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When it comes to covering the NFL, one of the greatest single resource tools is the statistical database at Pro Football Reference. And sparked by the discussion regarding whether or not Adrian Peterson has a legitimate shot at catching Emmitt Smith for the all-time rushing record, we decided to take a look at where Tom Brady stands — at least statistically — when it comes to measuring his individual numbers against some of the best in the game.

Career passing touchdowns — 359, fifth overall.
Like most of the rest of the categories, he’s a step or two behind Drew Brees. In this case, Brees has 363 career passing touchdowns, fourth on the list. However, Brady and Brees should be able to pass Dan Marino within the next two years, as the former Miami quarterback is third  all time with 420. Meanwhile, Brett Favre (508) and Peyton Manning (491) are at the top of the list.

Career passing yards — 49,149, seventh overall.
He’ll likely pass Warren Moon (49,325 career passing yards) relatively early in the season to move into sixth place. Brees is fifth overall at 51,081, and he will almost certainly add to that total in 2014. He and Brady should pass John Elway this year, as the former Broncos QB is fourth overall at 51,475 career yards. After that, it gets a little dicey — the top three are far removed from the rest of the field, at least at this point. Favre is first overall with 71,838 yards, Manning is No. 2 at 64,964, while Marino is third at 61,361. Again, once Manning, Brees and Brady are all done, they will all be in the Top 5 all time, provided they stay on their current pace.

Career passes completed — 4,178, fifth overall.
Brady is part of a top five of Favre (6,300, first), Manning (5,532, second), Marino (4,967, third) and Brees (4,481). Assuming that Brees is going to keep slinging it for at least the next three years, it appears unlikely Brady could pass him, but the Patriots quarterback could pass Marino between now and the end of his career, which would likely have him fourth when he decides to call it a career.

Career passing attempts — 6,586, good for ninth overall.
Brady figures to pass Vinny Testaverde for the eighth spot some time in the first month of the season, as he’s only 115 attempts behind Testaverde. In fact, he could rise a couple of notches on this list, as Drew Bledsoe (6,717, seventh) and Moon (6,823, fifth) are within reach this season. Of course, he probably won’t leapfrog Brees, who is sixth overall at 6,799. For comparisons sake, Favre (10,169) and Manning (8,452) are 1-2.

Career interceptions — 134, 70th overall
When you’re talking about the Brady/Brees/Manning group, one area where he’s better than his contemporaries (although you could say it’s because he’s attempted fewer passes) is interceptions. Among current active quarterbacks, Manning has 219 career picks (19th place on the all-time list), while Brees is second at 177 (38th in NFL history). Eli Manning is third with 171 (43rd on the all-time list), Jon Kitna is fourth with 165. Brady is seventh with 134 career interceptions, 70th overall. Again, by way of comparison, Favre is tops with 336 career interceptions, 59 more than George Blanda, who is second overall at 277.

Career completion percentage (minimum 1,500 pass attempts) — 63.4 percent, 11th overall
One statistical area that’s hard to define is career completion percentage. PFR has a minimum of 1,500 pass attempts needed to qualify, so you see quarterbacks on this list that might not necessarily be considered elite-level signal callers. However, it’s still a good indication of a quarterback’s decision making skills and his comfort level in the offense. At this point, Brady has a 63.4 percent career completion rate, which is 11th on the all-time list. Chad Pennington is the all-time leader with a 66 percent completion rate. Compared to the other lists — including Brady — nine of the top 12 quarterbacks on the list are still active, with Brees (65.9 percent, second), Aaron Rodgers (65.8 percent, third) and Manning (65.5 percent, fourth) rounding out the active quarterbacks who are currently in the top five.

Read More: aaron rodgers, Brett Favre, Chad Pennington, Dan Marino
Which QB does best job spreading ball around in passing game? 02.18.14 at 6:00 am ET
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Piggybacking on a column we did last year about Tom Brady‘€™s ability to work in new receivers and spread the ball around — and with another full season in the books — we figured we should take another look at some of the league wide numbers when it comes to ball distribution in the passing game.

Using the 250-catch barometer as the mark for involvement, three over-30 veterans continue to set the standard when it comes to getting everyone involved in the passing game, as Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees have managed to make stars out a variety of pass catchers on the way to record-setting seasons.

Using numbers culled from Pro Football Reference — which utilizes stats dating back to 1999 — the three are head and shoulders above the rest of the quarterbacking field when it comes to finding equilibrium in the passing game:

- Since 2001, Brady has completed at least 250 passes in the regular season to four different pass catchers over the course of his 13-year career as a starter: Wes Welker (563), Deion Branch (328), Troy Brown (323) and Kevin Faulk (310). Providing they stay healthy — and, in the case of Julian Edelman, return for 2013 — two more receivers could be added to the mix: Rob Gronkowski had 39 catches in an injury-shortened 2013 season, bringing his total of receptions via Brady to 223. And his 105 catches in 2013 boosted Edelman to 166 career receptions from Brady.

For those of you asking about guys who just missed out on the 250-catch mark with Brady, two jump off the page: one, Randy Moss caught 192 passes from Brady while the two were together in New England, including 98 catches in 2007 and 83 in 2009. And two, Aaron Hernandez finished with 166.

- In that same span, Manning has completed at least 250 passes to three different receivers: Reggie Wayne (779), Marvin Harrison (677) and Dallas Clark (387). Depending on how long he plays, Denver’€™s Demaryius Thomas could also be part of that group as well — he has 185 catches from Manning over the last two seasons, and could reach 250 in 2014 if he and the quarterback can both stay healthy.

To be fair to Manning, that time frame of 2001-2013 does cut off the first three seasons — from 1998 through 2000 — of his career. As a result, some of his early numbers aren’€™t included, particularly the formative years with Harrison, who had 276 regular-season catches with the Colts in that span. Our cutoff also means the work of an excellent pass-catching back like Edgerrin James goes unrewarded. He caught 230 passes from Manning from 2001-2005 before he departed Indy for the Cardinals. In all, James ended up catching a total of 355 passes from Manning while the two were together from 1999-2005.

- While Brady and Manning have impressive totals, when it comes to finding a variety of targets, they’€™re nowhere near Brees. When you combine his work in San Diego and New Orleans, the 35-year-old has complied at least 250 passes to six different receivers: Marques Colston (605), Lance Moore (346), Jimmy Graham (298 over the last four seasons), Reggie Bush (294), Pierre Thomas (284) and LaDainian Tomlinson (254). And a seventh — Darren Sproles — can hit 250 receptions from Brees in 2014. He’€™s already at 235 catches and counting.

When it comes to the next generation, it appears unlikely that anyone will be able to connect with six different pass catchers for at least 250 receptions. Among the quarterbacks who have been in the league for 7-10 seasons, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has Greg Jennings (324) and Jordy Nelson (252), but just missed out when Donald Driver (241) called it a career. However, his two wild cards are free agents James Jones (216) and Jermichael Finley (214) — if they both return and are healthy, Rodgers is seemingly a lock to get four pass-catchers to 250-plus receptions.

Ben Roethlisberger also has a good chance of getting to four — he’€™s completed at least 250 passes to three different receivers: Hines Ward (513), Heath Miller (420) and Antonio Brown (250), and could make it four if free agent Emmanuel Sanders (146) ends up sticking around Pittsburgh. Meanwhile Atlanta’€™s Matt Ryan has three, having connected for 250-plus with Roddy White (520), Tony Gonzalez (383) and Harry Douglas (205). And New York‘€™s Eli Manning has Hakeem Nicks (306) and Victor Cruz (241) — he appears to have just missed with Plaxico Burress (244) and Steve Smith (213).

As for the quarterbacks who have between two and five full years in the league, Detroit’€™s Matthew Stafford has found tremendous success with Calvin Johnson (353 catches from Stafford), but Brandon Pettigrew (215) and Nate Burleson (154) are also within hailing distance of the 250-catch mark, providing Burleson somehow makes it back to Detroit. In addition, Indy’€™s Andrew Luck has Wayne (145), T.Y. Hilton (133) and Coby Fleener (78), while Cincinnati’€™s Andy Dalton has benefitted from working with AJ Green (256), Jermaine Gresham (165) and Andrew Hawkins (85).

Read More: aaron rodgers, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger
WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 13: Patriots top dogs in AFC 11.26.13 at 12:36 pm ET
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The Patriots are the new power team in the AFC as they have surpassed the Broncos for the first time this year in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. Sunday night’s stunning comeback was good enough to catapult New England from seventh to fourth and drop Denver from second to fifth.

In the NFC, the scene is set for the two top teams to clash on Monday night. The Seahawks have enjoyed the top spot for quite some time, but the Saints, up a spot this week to No. 2, are a real threat with their prolific offense. Monday night’s outcome may not only determine who gets home-field advantage in the playoffs, but ultimately who represents the NFC in the Super Bowl.

At the bottom of the barrel, the Jaguars finally clawed their way out of the most miserable position. The good news for the Texans, our new bottom-feeder, is that they can only go up from here. Houston has plunged week after week after starting the season at No. 7.

1. (1) Seahawks (10-1) — Seattle should be solely focusing on its NFC clash with the Saints, but news that cornerbacks Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner are facing suspensions has changed that plan.

2. (3) Saints (9-2) — The most important game of the year for the Saints is Monday in Seattle. New Orleans wants to play in the comfort of its dome in the postseason. Winning two games in Seattle in the same year doesn’t seem likely.

3. (4) Panthers (8-3) — We’ve seen many qualities of a Super Bowl-caliber team during the Panthers’ current seven game win streak. The ability to close out tight games is a trait we see year after year from Super Bowl champions during the regular season.

4. (7) Patriots (8-3) — No franchise executes the “next man up” philosophy better than New England. Whether it’s Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Aaron Hernandez or Wes Welker, the Patriots continue to find a way to win more than they lose.

5. (2) Broncos (9-2) — It’s clear the formula to beating the Broncos is pressuring Peyton Manning. The veteran QB was 0-for-6 with an interception when faced with pressure from Patriots defenders. For the first time this season, Denver doesn’t look like the clear favorite in the AFC.

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Read More: aaron rodgers, Bill Belichick, NFL Power Rankings, Peyton Manning
WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 12: Pats drop out of top 5 11.20.13 at 11:58 am ET
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The Seahawks are showing no signs of wanting to fly south as winter nears. Seattle continues its reign at No. 1 as it heads into its bye week and prepares for a tough stretch against the Saints (3) and 49ers (8).

The Panthers (4) claw their way into the top five after a statement win in the Monday night game. The Patriots drop three spots to No. 7 and have no time to focus on a controversial call in Week 11 because the Broncos (2) are set to roll into Foxboro. Tom Brady will prepare for his 14th showdown vs. Peyton Manning. Brady has had the upper hand in nine of the 13 meetings between the two stars.

The bottom five welcomes its latest playoff team of 2012. The Falcons plummet to No. 30 and join the Vikings (28) and Texans (31) as teams to have hit rock bottom after reaching the postseason last year.

Many teams still are in the thick of the playoff race as the final quarter of the season approaches. Check back next week to see who’s on the way up and who’s on the way down.

1. (1) Seahawks (10-1) — The Seahawks look to be getting stronger and stronger as they inch closer to capturing the No. 1 seed in the NFC. They go into their bye week with six straight wins.

 2. (2) Broncos (9-1) — Manning has been the story all year, but the Broncos offensive line deserves the credit after Sunday night’s performance. The O-line came up huge on the biggest stage by not allowing a sack to the team that led the league in that category going into the game.

3. (5) Saints (8-2) — The Saints are a scary team when the offense is firing on all cylinders. Drew Brees is quietly putting up monster numbers once again as Peyton Manning gets all the attention.

4. (7) Panthers (7-3) — Cam Newton and the Panthers finally got the league’s attention.  Newton needed to prove he could lead his team late in the fourth quarter against a playoff-caliber team, and he accomplished just that.

5. (3) Chiefs (9-1) —  That ferocious Chiefs defense was non-existent Sunday night. Kansas City had a tremendous opportunity to rough up Peyton Manning but was unable to even knock him down. Despite the loss, many of the mistakes are fixable and the Chiefs should be able to rush Manning better when they face him again at Arrowhead.

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Read More: aaron rodgers, Broncos, Cam Newton, Drew Brees
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