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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The Colts defense has given up 211 yards and yet another score with a Matt Prater field goal.

Rudock got the Lions within striking distance, thanks in part to to this catch and stiff arm from tight end Michael Roberts. A missed Prater field goal kept the Lions from extending their lead.

The Indianapolis defense looks outmatched. Detroit capped off a seven-play, 73-yard drive with another Rudock touchdown pass to Golladay.

We have a new pair of pugilists atop the leader board, and they don’t even play for a team. Two Titans fans got into it during the team’s scrimmage. I’m not sure why the guy in the Keep Calm shirt has Batman’s phone, but the t-shirted crusader bloodies the guy’s lip with a big right to the mouth after getting shoved.

More punches were landed in this dustup than any of the training camp fights on the field between players. The best part is the guy running away. It’s definitely going to be a big year in Tennessee.

Prescott finished the evening 7-of-8 passing with 106 yards, a touchdown, and a passer rating of 158.3.

It’s preseason, and the Colts defense looked pretty bad to start this one off, but the Cowboys should feel good about seeing Prescott handle them with ease.

The NFL decided to chill when it comes to penalties on celebrations during games. It didn’t decide to let things be a free-for-all, but one of the things players can do now is group celebrations.

It does not matter if it’s preseason. If you take a kick back 109 yards in any football game, you deserve praise. Deonte Thompson did that to close out the first half for the Bears against the Cardinals.

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he pulled down a woman’s top during a St. Patrick’s Day parade

Let’s get the obvious option out of the way first. Colin Kaepernick is a better quarterback than Bortles and would likely jell in an offense that doesn’t ask him to do too much.

But Kaepernick’s free agency has little to do with his skills on the field. Teams have shied away from signing the quarterback after he kneeled during the national anthem throughout the 2016 season to protest of the oppression of people of color. Marrone, Tom Coughlin, and Shad Khan have stayed silent about Kaepernick, so it’s hard to know the franchise’s thoughts on the possibility of adding him.

Fans, as is the case with every NFL market to varying degrees, would be divided. There are at least a few including SB Nation’s Jaguars blog, Big Cat Country who think it would be a good idea:

After Kaepernick, the market for a free agent is thin. There’s Robert Griffin III, but it’s hard to confidently believe he’s a better option than Bortles or current backup Chad Henne.

The league also looked into another incident involving Elliott. In March of this year, he pulled down a woman’s top during a St. Patrick’s Day parade. The investigators reviewed video and interviewed the woman, who did not file a complaint. The letter sent to Elliott said your behavior during this event was inappropriate and disturbing, and reflected a lack of respect for the woman.

Although the league did not discipline him for the incident, it said it suggests a pattern of poor judgment.

On July 16, Elliott was connected to an incident at a Dallas bar, though he was not named as a suspect and no police report was filed. It did not factor into Elliott’s suspension, either. Soon after, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that Elliott was still learning how to navigate fame.

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Texans vs. Panthers 2017: Final score and highlights from Carolina’s win

Deshaun Watson was the big story headed into the Houston Texans’ opener on Wednesday night. While he did have some impressive moments, the Carolina Panthers ultimately came away with the 27-17 victory, thanks to two touchdown catches from Damiere Byrd.

Cam Newton sat out, so Derek Anderson got the start for Carolina. He hit Kelvin Benjamin for a score early on and then took a seat along with the rest of the starters. The Texans started Tom Savage, who played the first quarter before making way for Watson. Houston’s QB competition is far from over, but Watson had plenty of positive moments in his first preseason game.

Peppers went to school in Michigan and now he’s up in Cleveland with the Browns. What could be more Midwestern than a chain restaurant that strongly resembles Chili’s?

Instead of Chicken Crispers, Pepper’s has Chicken Crunchers. And instead of the trademarked Triple Dipper appetizer which combines a choice of your three favorite appetizers Pepper’s has the Triple Decker, which does the same thing but just stacks them on top of each other. Try the Go Blue corn chips with the Maize-o queso.

Eddie Lacy has made it clear he loves China food. You know every dish on his buffet line is going to be delicious. Anyone who’s this passionate about Chinese food would certainly have high standards.

Butler, a two-time Super Bowl champion and a one-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler, has made just $1.53 million in base salary to date. After signing a one-year, $3.91 million tender with New England, that figure will nearly quadruple but be just $5.44 million. Conversely, Marshon Lattimore, the 11th pick in the 2017 NFL draft, was guaranteed more than $15 million before even playing a snap in the league.

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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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‘Hard Knocks’ recap: Did you get a hot dog?

Recaps that simply regurgitate an episode’s chronology are for children. THIS IS THE PROS, BABY. Here are the six biggest takeaways from the second episode of this season’s Hard Knocks.

The Seahawks are coming off a convincing 48-17 win over the Los Angeles Chargers last Sunday. Trevone Boykin put on a show, completing 12 of 15 passes for 189 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. It was an important performance for Boykin, who’s trying to retain the backup quarterback job after Seattle signed Austin Davis in the offseason.

Seattle’s blowout win didn’t come without a price, though. Wide receiver Paul Richardson injured his shoulder making a diving catch in the first quarter. He was diagnosed with a sprained AC joint and will probably miss this week’s game, but Richardson might be ready in time for the regular season. Doug Baldwin is back at practice after picking up a minor foot injury, while Tyler Lockett is getting close to 100 percent after last year’s broken leg. Russell Wilson would get a huge boost with all three of those receivers healthy at the same time.

The Vikings’ preseason game wasn’t as comfortable, but they did enough to get a 17-10 win over the Buffalo Bills. The defense held Buffalo to just one touchdown and Dalvin Cook looked good in his preseason debut, recording 43 total yards on nine touches. The second-round rookie is currently anchoring the Vikings’ backfield with Latavius Murray recovering from offseason ankle surgery. Murray was activated from the PUP list last week and could see some action Friday night after he sat out the first preseason game.

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