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The NFL has finalized its schedule for Week 17, eliminating the Sunday night game so as to ensure that all matchups with playoff implications that affect one another will be played at the same time.

The last time the NFL regular season didn’t end with a night game, either on Sunday or Monday, was in 1977 — the last season with a 14-game schedule. The last time the final NFL Sunday fell on New Year’s Eve was 2006.
Games on both Fox and CBS have been affected this year, with Fox flexing both NFC South games. Due in part to a back-loaded divisional schedule, the NFC South remains the only division that has not yet been clinched. The New Orleans Saints’ game at Tampa Bay has been moved from 1 p.m. to 4:25 p.m. ET. The same goes for the Panthers-Falcons meeting in Atlanta.

Both New Orleans (11-4) and Carolina (11-4) clinched playoff berths Sunday, with the Saints needing either a win over the Bucs (4-11) or a loss by the Panthers next week to clinch the division. Carolina can claim the NFC South with a win over Atlanta and a Saints loss.

The Falcons (9-6) can’t win the division but can advance to the playoffs by beating the Panthers.

On CBS, Bengals-Ravens, Bills-Dolphins and Jaguars-Titans also have been moved to 4:25 p.m.

The Ravens (9-6), Titans (8-7) and Bills (8-7) are all fighting for a wild card, while the Jaguars already clinched the AFC South.

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“We felt that both from a competitive standpoint and from a fan perspective, the most fair thing to do is to schedule all Week 17 games in either the 1 p.m. or 4:25 p.m. ET windows,” NFL senior vice president of broadcasting Howard Katz said. “This ensures that we do not have a matchup on Sunday Night Football on New Year’s Eve that because of earlier resu
“We felt that both from a competitive standpoint and from a fan perspective, the most fair thing to do is to schedule all Week 17 games in either the 1 p.m. or 4:25 p.m. ET windows,” NFL senior vice president of broadcasting Howard Katz said. “This ensures that we do not have a matchup on Sunday Night Football on New Year’s Eve that because of earlier results has no playoff implications for one or both of the competing teams.”

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers’ fate — and perhaps the Packers’ playoff chances — are in the hands of the doctors.

That’s the only update coach Mike McCarthy had on his quarterback after Rodgers underwent tests Monday morning to see whether his broken right collarbone has healed to the point that he could return Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, the first game for which Rodgers is eligible to be activated off injured reserve.

Packers physician Dr. Pat McKenzie is expected to make a determination after consulting with several specialists.

“It is now in the evaluation stage,” McCarthy said late Monday afternoon. “Dr. McKenzie is reviewing it. There’s a number of medical opinions that will be involved in a decision, so at this time, I do not have a clean decision for you or an update. That’s where it stands.”
McCarthy joked that if he didn’t have a decision by Tuesday, “they’re going to be putting Pat McKenzie on IR.”

Aaron Rodgers is eligible to be activated off injured reserve for Sunday's game against the Panthers, but whether he will be back on the field depends on the health of his collarbone.

Aaron Rodgers is eligible to be activated off injured reserve for Sunday’s game against the Panthers, but whether he will be back on the field depends on the health of his collarbone.

It’s unclear why the Packers didn’t put Rodgers through tests late last week.

To this point, everything has gone according to plan in Rodgers’ recovery from surgery on Oct. 19, when he had screws and plates implanted to stabilize his right clavicle. Rodgers said he hoped to come back this season but only if the tests showed the bone had healed.

He returned to practice on Dec. 2, the day he turned 34. Even before that, however, he was throwing. The first time he did so in public was before the Nov. 26 game at Pittsburgh, where he was seen throwing passes 50-plus yards in the air. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews even joked that Rodgers looked so good during the rehab process that the Packers shouldn’t have put him on injured reserve.

“It’s in the evaluation process,” McCarthy said. “I don’t have an answer for you. I’d like to know as soon as possible. Frankly, it’s best for Aaron to know as soon as possible. He’s the one that has to get ready, and obviously, in his mind he’s ready to go if you watch him practice and the conversations with him. But this is a medical decision, and Dr. McKenzie is obviously in touch with a number of different medical experts, and they’re evaluating the information.”
With or without Rodgers, McCarthy and his offensive staff are well into their game plan for the Panthers. They typically start on the next opponent late in the previous week, and this game was no different.

“We do preliminary game plans at the end of each week,” McCarthy said. “So, for instance, the offensive staff has a preliminary game plan for Carolina that is worked on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and then we evaluate their game that they played yesterday. So we had a chance to watch that against Minnesota. Obviously, we were here early this morning correcting our game from Cleveland. So the process is in full motion, and so, we’ll just keep going down the road.”

Brett Hundley won three of his seven starts in place of Rodgers, including consecutive overtime wins the past two weeks to get the Packers to 7-6 and keep them alive in the playoff race.

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FRISCO, Texas — Jason Witten is in no rush to leave the Dallas Cowboys, despite his name being connected to the head-coaching vacancy at his alma mater of Tennessee.

“Coaching is something I can see myself down the road, having one of those opportunities, but right now I’m all in with this team and my feet are planted firmly here and this opportunity that I have in 2017 and getting it right this week,” Witten said. “And not only that, but I really love this team we have and what we’re trying to build and get it right, right now and for beyond, for the future.
“So I feel too good to think that I’d consider something like that at this point.”

Tennessee backed out of an agreement with Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano as its next head coach after backlash from the fans. Witten’s name was mentioned as a possibility by outkickthecoverage.com, which said Witten would be willing to leave immediately to take over at his former school.

Witten, 35, who played for the Volunteers from 2000 to ’02, has a strong relationship with Tennessee athletic director John Currie, and he said they have spoken several times throughout the coaching search process but not recently.

“There’s a lot of smart people around him, and they’re working hard to hire and make the right hire to get our program back,” Witten said. “I’m confident that they’ll do that.”

Witten, who signed a four-year extension in the offseason, is in his 15th season with the Cowboys. He owns the franchise records for receptions, receiving yards, most games played, most games started and consecutive games played, while earning Pro Bowl honors 10 times. He is fourth all time in the NFL in receptions, second among tight ends.

Witten has 50 catches for 429 yards and three touchdowns this season.

He said his focus is on Thursday’s game against the Washington Redskins.

“I have this unbelievable opportunity and I love playing, and I think the people around you can say, ‘Oh maybe one day he’ll be a good coach and consider something like that,’” Witten said. “Certainly I can see that happening down the road, but no time soon. I’m enjoying loving what I’m doing right now.”

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BOSTON — Former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez suffered severe damage to parts of the brain that play an important role in memory, impulse control and behavior, a researcher who studied his brain said Thursday.

Dr. Ann McKee, director of Boston University’s CTE Center, stressed that she could not “connect the dots” between the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy and the behavior of the 27-year-old who hanged himself in April while serving life in prison for murder.

But McKee said CTE had significantly impacted key parts of Hernandez’s brain, including the hippocampus — which is associated with memory — and the frontal lobe, which is involved in impulse control, judgment and behavior.
“We can say collectively, in our collective experience, that individuals with CTE — and CTE of this severity — have difficulty with impulse control, decision-making, inhibition of impulses or aggression, often emotional volatility and rage behaviors,” said McKee, who has studied hundreds of brains from football players, college athletes and even younger players, donated after their deaths.

Hernandez hanged himself in prison days after he was acquitted in the 2012 drive-by shootings of two men in Boston and just hours before his former teammates visited the White House to celebrate their latest Super Bowl victory.

Prosecutors contended he gunned the two men down after one accidentally spilled a drink on him in a nightclub — and then got a tattoo of a handgun and the words “God Forgives” to commemorate the crime.

He had been serving a life sentence without parole in the 2013 killing of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd when he killed himself.

Hernandez, who said he was innocent, did not raise CTE in his defense at either trial.

CTE, which can only be diagnosed in an autopsy, has been found in former members of the military, football players and boxers and others who suffered repeated head trauma.

BU researchers confirmed in September that Hernandez was diagnosed with Stage 3, out of 4, of the disease. But McKee had not publicly discussed her findings until a conference at the university on Thursday.

After Hernandez’s CTE diagnosis, his attorneys filed a lawsuit against the NFL and football helmet maker Riddell, accusing them of failing to warn Hernandez about the dangers of football. The lawsuit, which seeks damages for Hernandez’s young daughter, said he experienced a “chaotic and horrendous existence” because of his disease.
While the outside of Hernandez’s brain appeared normal, the inside was riddled with CTE, she said. There was evidence of previous small hemorrhages, which experts associate with head impacts, she said. Other parts, like the hippocampus, had begun to shrink and large holes were found in his brain’s membrane, McKee said.

The next youngest person whose brain they’ve examined that showed such serious CTE damage was 46 years old, McKee said.

“These are very unusual findings to see in an individual of this age,” McKee said. “We’ve never seen this in our 468 brains, except in individuals some 20 years older,” she said.

Hernandez inherited a genetic profile that may have made him more susceptible to the disease, McKee said.