Malcolm Butler is on the brink of his biggest year for the Patriots yet

Malcolm Butler has nothing to prove to Patriots fans. His game-saving interception in Super Bowl XLIX made him a household name throughout the Northeast. His ascendance from undrafted free agent to one of the league’s top coverage backs earned him respect across the league. If he hits the free-agent marketplace next spring, he’ll be one of the most coveted players available.

Some of the NFL’s biggest names will be playing out the final year of their contract in 2017. How they perform this year will go along way toward what kind of payday they can expect next year. SB Nation is taking a closer looks at the stakes for each player.

Ahahahahaha. I can’t stop laughing about this. I think it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen (if it turns out to be fake I’ll be devastated). I don’t know who these people are, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s the concept and execution that really gets me.

Because think about the things that had to happen for this thing to happen: Not only did two people have to go to a preseason NFL game, the most meaningless sporting events our country boasts (besides episodes of The Bachelor), they had to go to a Dolphins game. And then not only did they have to go to a Dolphins game, they had to go to a Dolphins game after the team signed Jay Cutler, the man with the saddest face in America. And not only did they have to go to a Dolphins game when Jay Cutler was in the building, they had to stay long enough for the man to get down on one knee and ask the woman, who was still at the Jay Cutler-laden Dolphins preseason game, to marry him.

It’s my complete inability to comprehend this proposal that makes me love it so much. Proposing at stadiums is so stupid that if you have to do it, at least do it in the most endearingly dumb way possible.

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Damiere Byrd continued a strong night with his second touchdown of the game

The Titans get another turnover this time a Derek Anderson interception and we can definitely say they’re beating up on the Panthers at this point.

The stars of the first half were easily Derrick Henry 36 rushing yards and two touchdowns and Christian McCaffrey 33 rushing yards, 39 receiving yards, and one touchdown. It’s the 2015 Heisman race all over again.

Now the Texans have found a groove on offense. Alfred Blue got things rolling, and he didn’t quit all drive. He put up 31 yards on four carries and barreled into the end zone for the 16-yard touchdown.

Braxton Miller and DeAndre Hopkins also got in on the action, and Savage looked sharp, going 8-for-8.

Unfortunately, defensive tackle Vernon Butler, Carolina’s 2016 first-round pick, had to be helped off the field. This is a good sign, however:

Despite Houston being down two possessions, Watson was calm and poised on his next drive. He didn’t challenge the Panthers defense deep, but was steady hitting his receivers underneath and moving the chains.

In by far his best drive of the game, Watson methodically carved up the Panthers’ defense before finishing business himself, running for a 15-yard touchdown. You’d hardly tell he was a rookie based on this performance.

The Panthers are down to their third and fourth string with Cameron Artis-Payne in the backfield, as McCaffery ends his night with 33 yards on seven carries. Artis-Payne jumpstarted Carolina’s first drive of the second half with a 20-yard run. Soon after, Webb used his feet to keep the drive alive, getting a couple of first downs with well-timed scrambles.

Damiere Byrd continued a strong night with his second touchdown of the game, putting the Panthers up by 14.

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The Panthers’ defense was on fire during the first series.

Doink! The Panthers had a chance to get on the board first, but Graham Gano’s 50-yard field goal attempt bounced off the upright.

Kelvin Benjamin looked smooth (and not heavy) on a 17-yard catch from Derek Anderson. We also got our first Christian McCaffrey sighting, but it was just a 2-yard gain.

The Panthers’ defense was on fire during the first series. Tom Savage was under pressure immediately, and Lamar Miller couldn’t find any room to run. Kawann Short sacked Savage for a big loss and Houston went three-and-out.

Pittsburgh hopes T.J. Watt can bring the same star power that his older brother, J.J., brought to the Texans. Well, he’s off to a good start with a sack on his first defensive drive in a Steelers uniform to force a Giants punt.

Oft-criticized Giants offensive tackle Ereck Flowers gave up the sack, but it really wasn’t his fault. The rest of the Steelers’ defensive line forced Johnson to run straight into Watt. Either way, guess who took notice:

Roberto Aguayo then missed the extra point try. That’s not a good way to get his second preseason started.

On the other side, rookie Jake Elliott is battling Randy Bullock for Cincinnati’s kicking job. They’re both doing ok for themselves, nailing 45- and 54-yard field goals in the first half, respectively.

Just a week after trading him to Buffalo, the Philadelphia Eagles will get the chance to reunite with former wideout Jordan Matthews. The Bills acquired the fourth-year receiver after trading away Sammy Watkins, and they’ve already gotten bad news. Matthews suffered a minor rib fracture in his first practice with the team and isn’t expected to play. Cornerback Ronald Darby, traded from the Bills to the Eagles in the same trade as Matthews, will make his Eagles debut, however.

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Blaine Gabbert threw a touchdown pass with nine seconds remaining to Jeremy Ross

College football is still a week away, and that means Saturday belongs to the NFL preseason. While Week 1 of the exhibition season was marred by the absence of superstars, this weekend’s action holds the promise of seeing some of the league’s top players earn between 10-12 snaps before ceding ground to a smattering of undrafted free agents.

That’s not much, but it’s a start. The NFL season is fast approaching, and this weekend’s action could wind up being the deciding factor between a fringe player earning a roster spot and ascending to a starting role and winding up back on the free agent list. The fourth quarters of Saturday’s games will provide some familiar faces for college football fans and NFL diehards who can recite team rosters down to 53 places, but won’t be nearly as engaging for Cowboys fans hoping to see Dak Prescott for more than a cameo.

A handful of big games dot the day’s schedule. The Patriots will travel south to Houston to meet the Texans in a rematch of a hard-fought Divisional playoff game from earlier this year. Tom Brady and the starters are even supposed to make an appearance.

Blaine Gabbert threw a touchdown pass with nine seconds remaining to Jeremy Ross, but they couldn’t convert on the two point conversion, giving the Bears the victory.

Watson tried a couple of long throws to set up more points, but the Texans’ last first-half drive didn’t amount to anything.

In the final game of the evening, the rebuilding 49ers face the Chiefs, who are shaking off a turbulent offseason that included general manager John Dorsey surprisingly getting fired despite two straight playoff appearances. The other big story in K.C. is Patrick Mahomes, the first-round QB who could overtake Alex Smith if he has a strong preseason. Look for Mahomes to get plenty of snaps here as the Chiefs break him in.

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Broncos vs. Bears 2017 live stream: Start time, TV channel, and how to watch online

The Denver Broncos are on the road for their first preseason game of 2017 and will face their former head coach John Fox and his new team, the Chicago Bears. The Broncos announced just days ago that Trevor Siemian will be the starter for their road trip to the Windy City.

I’m not saying we’re always right. The NFL knows more about what it’s looking for than we do. It’s just not easy to predict which seemingly random QB the NFL will decide is much better than college fans ever would’ve guessed.

For the 2018 draft, NFL media has already decided on its out-of-nowhere guy, almost a year ahead of schedule. For months now, Wyoming QB Josh Allen has been called a likely top-10 pick, ranking alongside former five-star Josh Rosen of UCLA and Rose Bowl winner Sam Darnold of USC, and ahead of big-number producers like Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, Washington State’s Luke Falk, and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph.

A Yahoo! story calls Allen one of the big three, along with Rosen and Darnold. SB Nation’s first mock draft predicted him at No. 3. At one point, Bleacher Report had Allen at No. 3 in 2017, let alone 2018. Adam Schefter reported 12 months in advance that Allen’s earning No. 1 buzz.

There are specific rules about when a player can be placed on PUP and when he’s allowed to come off of it.

If a player has practiced during training camp he’s not eligible for PUP. Players like Luck and Hightower, who started training camp on the PUP, can be removed from the list at any time during the preseason. Once they are, they can get back on the practice field.

The player also has to be a dealing with an NFL-related injury to be placed on the PUP.

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Alex Smith has a reputation as a dink-and-dunk quarterback

The Washington offense hasn’t done much of anything, but Fabian Moreau forced a fumble on a punt and that set up a field goal. Special teams are a good way to impress in preseason.

The Cowboys played it safe with Dak Prescott and kept him on the sideline for the first two preseason games, but he got started Saturday and picked up exactly where he left off.

Alex Smith has a reputation as a dink-and-dunk quarterback, but he didn’t look like it when he dropped a perfect pass into Travis Kelce’s arms early in the game.

Smith played well for the Chiefs and then Patrick Mahomes came in and did this.

Unfortunately, the referees ruled against fun and exciting things, and said Mahomes was out of bounds. Instead, he threw a touchdown to Demetrius Harris, who also caught a touchdown pass from Smith.

Mahomes kept his good play rolling into the second half with a 12-play touchdown drive to start the third quarter. All in all, he looked amazing.

Watt was already out by the second series, and the Panthers’ offense seemed to notice. Anderson hit Greg Olsen for a 32-yard gain in the middle of the field. Then McCaffrey showed why he was a top-10 pick with a shifty first-down run.

Benjamin beat Johnathan Joseph to haul in the first touchdown of the game.

It’s preseason time in the NFL. While we’re a month away from the regular season (and about two weeks away from being sick of preseason), there’s still the excitement of football returning and a chance to see your favorite players for the first time since January.

Week 1 of the preseason has been a slow rollout, with one game on Wednesday night and six more on Thursday. There are three games taking place Friday night, all with varying levels of intrigue, even if the starters won’t be playing much.

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Wyoming’s Josh Allen is still drawing massive NFL draft hype. How about that!

Every spring, heading into the NFL draft, college fans are surprised to discover which quarterbacks have won the pros’ hearts. Ryan Tannehill over Russell Wilson, huh? Mitch Trubisky over Deshaun Watson, huh? Jared Goff over … any of these other guys, huh?

Instead, those players go on the Active/Non-Football Injury list. The Broncos placed two rookies on the NFI list this week: tight end Jake Butt, who tore his ACL in Michigan’s Orange Bowl loss last December, and Chad Kelly, who underwent wrist surgery before he was drafted.

The rules on when a player can return from NFI are the same as PUP. But if a player is cleared from the NFI or PUP list, he can’t be placed back on that list after the fact. The team will either have to cut the player or place him on injured reserve.

The time for concern is when a player can’t get off the PUP list before the end of the preseason. If he’s still on PUP when the regular season begins, then that player is stuck on there for the first six games. Luck is expected to start Week 1, but if he’s still on the PUP right before the regular season starts, the Colts will be without their quarterback until mid-October.

Teams always have the option of shifting a player from PUP to injured reserve if it looks like he won’t be physically ready within that six-week timeframe.

The Cowboys and Rams both saw their depth charts upended this week, for entirely different reasons. Ezekiel Elliott got a six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, and Dallas has to figure out the short-term starter if his appeal fails.

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Burfict’s tackle didn’t sit well with his teammates

We’re getting a look at Lions rookie quarterback Brady Kaaya. Fun fact: His mom is the Bye Felicia lady from Friday. This hasn’t been the most thrilling quarter so far, and that’s the most interesting thing we can come up with about this game right now.

Another Chris Carson 1-yard rushing touchdown gives the Seahawks what should be an insurmountable lead, since they’re not the Atlanta Falcons and this isn’t the Super Bowl.

Burfict’s tackle didn’t sit well with his teammates, and that led to a larger scrum. A coach even got pushed during the spat. Tight end Tyler Eifert went the extra mile, and he kept jawing with the linebacker after the rest of the players had moved on.

After practice, they waved it off as the typical camp intensity. Head coach Marvin Lewis was more blunt, telling reporters pushing and shoving is a waste of time.

Joint practices are supposed to be a sneaky way teams get some extra work within the limitations on their practice time. Does it work? Who knows. What we do know is that there is always a brawl.

Rams corner Trumaine Johnson shoved Chargers receiver Dontrelle Inman. Benches cleared, mostly, thereafter.

Remember that trade last week that sent Jordan Matthews to the Bills? Well the other player involved in that trade picked off his former quarterback in Tyrod Taylor.

The Buccaneers cut Roberto Aguayo last week after having a rough first year and change with the team. The first kick the team attempted since his release was missed by Nick Folk.

It wasn’t all bad. Butler and his secondary bent hard in the first half but didn’t break. Their ability to limit Matt Ryan and hold the Falcons scoreless over the final 22:30 was as important to the greatest comeback in league history as Brady’s passes or James White’s ability to be everywhere at once.

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NFL schedule 2017: TV times and live stream info for Falcons vs. Steelers, Saints vs. Chargers

Week 2 of the NFL preseason is underway, and that means more reps for starters. After key players sat out their teams’ openers, this weekend marked the brief returns of the league’s top players. On Saturday night, Tom Brady and Dak Prescott both made their preseason debuts.

That trend might not continue on Sunday, but both games are worth watching. The first will give us a couple of high-profile NFL debuts. In the second, one team will look to break a 10-game preseason losing streak.

The situation was also under extra scrutiny because of who Frank Clark is. While at Michigan, Clark was suspended for allegedly stealing a laptop and later dismissed from the team after being arrested for domestic violence, which lead to an eventual guilty plea to the charge of disorderly conduct. These past issues, along with uncertainty over what exactly happened during the fight, brought further scrutiny to Clark’s actions.

There is a little less uncertainty now, as an attendee at training camp that day had his camera at the ready as the training camp scuffle turned into training camp punch. Scott Granado shared some fantastic pictures that he captured that day.

The first week of the NFL preseason has been an eventful one, with position battles playing out and rookies getting their chances to shine. Things will continue on Saturday evening with three more games on the schedule, featuring varying levels of intrigue.

I think we’re stronger for it, I think we’ve come back better because of it. Unfortunately, it took a bad incident to get that done, and both guys have really bounced back.

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