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Ten Observations from Week 14 in the NFL

1. The Redskins dodge two big bullets.
It’s ironic to think that back in April Mike Shanahan and the Redskins were blasted for drafting quarterback Kirk Cousins in the fourth round instead of filling one of their many needs. Because just over five months later Cousins wound up saving a game for the Skins, if not their entire season. For Cousins to show so much poise and composure while leading the Redskins to a 31-28 come-from-behind victory over the Ravens was impressive. He was thrust into a situation where his decisions would directly affect whether or not his team would win or lose and he performed like a 10-year veteran as opposed to a fourth-round rookie. Instead of allowing the moment to overwhelm him, he displayed fortitude while finding Pierre Garcon on an 11-yard touchdown pass with under a minute remaining in the game. Not only that, but he also ran for a 2-point conversion to tie the game at 28 and send it into overtime, where Washington eventually won. Afterwards it was revealed that an MRI on RGIII’s right knee came back clear and it appears as though the 7-6 Redskins will have their starting quarterback for the stretch run. Of course, if RGIII can’t go, Washington is fortunate to have a backup like Cousins. That’s something nobody expected anyone would say back in April.

2. The Bears may be on the verge of their second straight collapse.
The Bears would have made the playoffs last season had Matt Forte and Jay Cutler not been injured. That’s more of a presumption than a fact, but the bottom line is that they were undone by injuries and they might be suffering from déjà vu. With Brian Urlacher inactive, Chicago’s defense was no match for Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 31 yards on 154 carries and two touchdowns in Minnesota’s 21-14 victory. Worse yet, Cutler was shaken up late in the fourth quarter and is now day-to-day with a neck injury. We’ve seen this scene already play out multiple times: the Bears won’t survive without Cutler, who continues to take abuse from his shoddy offensive line. Fortunately for Chicago it plays Arizona in two weeks and wraps up the season against a Detroit team with nothing to play for. But the NFC North could be up for grabs next week and if Cutler can’t play, the Bears could suffer the same fate they did a season ago.

3. It took nearly three months but Cam Newton is finally putting on a show.
Turnovers and an inability to close out games doomed Cam Newton over the first three months of the season. That’s why instead of challenging for a postseason berth like some had thought they would, the Panthers stumbled to a 2-8 record. But Newton has been luminous over his past three games while playing like the star he was a season ago. He’s thrown for over 800 yards the past three weeks while posting a 7:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio and completing 62.2-percent of his passes. In Carolina’s impressive 30-20 victory over Atlanta on Sunday, Newton nearly played mistake-free football while completing 23-of-35 passes for 287 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also added 116 yards on nine rushes, including a 72-yard touchdown scamper on a read option in which he flashed his explosiveness and patience as a runner. He was even more impressive as a passer. It wasn’t just that he was accurate – he was accurate while throwing a handful of passes outside the numbers. He racked up 53 yards and a touchdown on a screen pass to DeAngelo Williams in the fourth quarter, but the majority of his throws were lasers to receivers with defenders draped over them. He also benefited from an angry Steve Smith, who took 13 weeks of frustrations out on an overmatched Atlanta defense. Granted, it’s too little, too late for Newton and the Panthers. But Carolina has to feel much better about Newton’s performance over the past three weeks than it did earlier in the season when he sulked his way to six losses in his first seven games.

4. Reality is starting to set in for the Ravens.
The Ravens were a team of resiliency earlier this year but now they’re just a team trying to hold it all together. Thanks to injuries, they’re lacking playmakers on the defensive side of the ball and while their offense has been the highlight of their season at times, they’re an inconsistent unit led by an inconsistent quarterback. They caught a massive break when both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh also lost on Sunday, but Baltimore can’t feel too good about allowing Kirk Cousins to put together an unthinkable comeback in the Redskins’ 31-28 victory. It was a game in which the Ravens held an eight-point lead until Cousins found Pierre Garcon on an 11-yard touchdown pass with 29 seconds remaining, and a long punt return by Richard Crawford set up Kai Forbath’s 34-yard game-winning field goal in overtime. One week after losing to a banged up Steelers team, the Ravens were beaten by a rookie quarterback and his rookie backup. At 9-4 they’re still in good shape to make the postseason and even win the division. But at a point when teams hope to be ascending, Baltimore is stumbling backwards with legitimate concerns on both sides of the ball.

5. Skepticism once again takes center stage in Atlanta.
Instead of wondering whether or not they can make a Super Bowl run, the Falcons have once again left everyone doubting whether they can even win a playoff game. Their 30-20 loss to the Panthers was much worse than the final score would indicate. Carolina dominated Atlanta in all three phases of the game, which is noteworthy considering the Panthers currently reside in the basement of the NFC South. The Falcons’ game plan on both sides of the ball was rudimentary and despite scoring 20 points, their offense looked bogged down outside of a handful of drives. Opponents are making a habit of bringing pressure and putting it right in Matt Ryan’s face and the Falcons can’t counter the onslaught because they can’t run the ball. They also can’t stop the run, which was apparent by the 195 rushing yards their defense gave up on Sunday. Granted, they were without Week 13 hero William Moore (hamstring) and starting corner Asante Samuel (shoulder), but they can’t use injuries as an excuse. The Panthers manhandled them for four quarters and even though they’re 11-2, the Falcons are left with more questions than answers at this critical junction in the season.

6. The Rams are finding it’s better to be lucky than good.
In their past two games, the Rams defense has held the rushing trio of Frank Gore, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller to 109 yards on 39 carries (2.79 YPC). A team doesn’t do that by accident. It takes a great game plan and near-flawless execution in order to suffocate some of the best backs in the league. What the Rams have done defensively over the past two weeks is hold their opponent just long enough for their offense to muster the confidence to move the ball into scoring range. That said, in taking nothing away from the heroics of Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Janoris Jenkins and Michael Brockers, the Rams have discovered it’s better to be lucky than good. If Jim Harbaugh doesn’t arrogantly call a toss play with Colin Kaepernick in the fourth quarter last week, the Rams probably don’t have an opportunity to beat the 49ers. If Austin Pettis doesn’t make a spectacular catch on a pass that was thrown behind him on a crucial fourth down play on Sunday, the Rams don’t beat the Bills either. (Buffalo also dropped at least two potential interceptions on that same drive.) But just as the adage goes, winners make their own luck. The Rams defense deserved to win the past two weeks, as did the much-maligned Brandon Gibson, the often forgotten Pettis, and the polarizing Sam Bradford (who didn’t become gun shy despite nearly ending the Rams’ comeback hopes with an interception). When a team goes 29-83 in between its last playoff appearance and the hiring of yet another head coach, luck can ride shotgun as long as the wins keep piling up.

7. The Giants might be the best team in the NFC (again).
Throw out the records – the 49ers are better than the Falcons. If the two were to met on a neutral field next Sunday, San Francisco would pound Atlanta on the ground and the Falcons wouldn’t be able to stop Colin Kaepernick or the option (much like they didn’t stop Cam Newton Sunday in Carolina). But the Giants took it to the Niners in San Fran earlier this season and with how good they looked versus the Saints in their 52-27 victory, New York might just be the best team in the NFC despite being 8-5. Having said all that, the Falcons will probably beat the Giants next Sunday in Atlanta and force me to take back everything I just wrote. (The NFC is a maddening bitch this year, isn’t it?)

8. The Steelers offense is regressing.
There were a number of things that had to disturb Steelers coach Mike Tomlin following the Chargers’ 34-24 victory. San Diego’s 34 points were the most that Pittsburgh allowed at Heinz Field in two years and Sunday marked the first time the Chargers had ever won a regular season game in Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger’s return also did nothing for a Steelers offense that appears to be regressing heading down the stretch. Roethlisberger looked rusty out of the gates while throwing low to intended targets and struggling with his accuracy throughout the first half. His offensive line didn’t do him any favors either, and losing Willie Colon to injury in the second quarter forced Pittsburgh to reshuffle its front five. The result was predictable for the Steelers, who did nothing against San Diego’s aggressive front seven (which also shut down Pittsburgh’s running game). On a day when the Ravens and Bengals both lost, the Steelers blew a golden opportunity to gain ground/separation in the AFC playoff race. Tomlin’s only hope is that the loss to San Diego was a result of a hangover stemming from the win over Baltimore last week. Because the alternative is that a struggling Chargers team just exposed his squad n both sides of the ball.

9. Good for Andy Reid.
It’s been so easy to get caught up in trying to figure out who Andy Reid’s replacement will be next season that you forget Reid still occupies the job. You forget that Reid is still pouring countless hours of preparation into a game that, for all intents and purposes, won’t matter if his team wins or loses. You forget that this man still has a job to do despite everyone around him asking when he’ll be handed his walking papers. Nick Foles ability to find Jeremy Maclin on a 1-yard touchdown pass with no time left on the clock to give Philadelphia a 23-21 win over Tampa Bay won’t save Reid’s job. His players seemingly quit on him weeks ago and management has probably already made up its mind that a change is in order. But for one Sunday it was touching to see Reid engage in a long embrace with one of his assistants following the Eagles’ 23-21 victory. For one Sunday, Reid can celebrate all of the hard work that he did leading up to kickoff. For one Sunday, Reid can embrace victory.

10. Quick-Hits.
Want to know how weird Sunday was? The Browns were the highlight of the AFC North…After putting together a complete win against the Steelers, Charger fans can understandably ask: Where the hell was that effort all season?…Give the Comeback Player of the Year Award to both Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson. Seriously, just add an “s” to “Player” and call it a day. They’ve both been fantastic and the league will be slighting the player who doesn’t win so make everyone happen and have co-winners this season. Either that, or I want someone to look me in the eye and tell me one of those two players doesn’t deserve it…The Colts continue to defy logic. The past two weeks I watched that team play sloppy football for at least a half, only to still win in the end…It’ll be disappointing if Ken Whisenhunt winds up being the fall guy in Arizona, because GM Rod Graves is just as much at fault. If the Cardinals want to ensure that talented DC Ray Horton is given a shot to be a head coach, they could replace Horton with Whisenhunt for the final three games of the season. But it’s been Graves’ inability to find Whisenhunt a quarterback and built a component offensive line that has doomed the Cardinals. If Whisenhunt is ousted, it’s unfair that Graves is allowed to keep his job…Pete Carroll must have thought he was still trying to impress the BCS by running up the score versus the Cardinals. For the record, I have no problem with the Seahawks still throwing the ball up 83-0 on Arizona. The last time I checked, the Cardinals were still allowed to play with 11 defenders so if they didn’t like what the Seahawks were doing, they should have stopped them. That said, if Jim Harbaugh runs up the score against Seattle in two weeks, Carroll better not say a word…I hope Titus Young watched the effort that Kris Durham gave on Sunday night for the Lions and is embarrassed by his actions over the past few weeks…The ending of the 49ers’ victory over the Dolphins was exactly why Jim Harbaugh has decided to go with Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith. Just in case you were wondering…Defense isn’t the only issues the Saints have – that was a horrendous effort on special teams and for the second straight week, Drew Brees wasn’t very good either…The tragedies in Kansas City and Dallas the past two weeks have shown that the NFL and its 32 teams can only do so much when it comes to protecting its players. It’s ultimately up to these young men to make good decisions and the NFL can only hope that one of these times that the message will get through. Take a cab, reach out when you need it, and don’t be careless with your life or others.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Fade Material: NFL Week 14 Predictions

Jacksonville Jaguars rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert looks to throw the ball downfield against the Houston Texans in the first half at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas on October 30, 2011. The Texans defeated the Jaguars 24-14. UPI/Aaron M. Sprecher

Turns out I do have a pulse – who knew!

After weeks of bad to horrendous predictions, I’ve started to turn things around with my NFL picks. After going 3-1 in Week 12, I followed that performance with another 3-1 Sunday in Week 13 as the Texans, Chiefs and Saints all covered. (My lone loss was the Bengals, who forgot to get off the bus in Pittsburgh.) The latest 3-1 effort lifted my season record to 24-25-2. Let’s see if I can’t get over that .500 mark so I can save some of my dignity.

Texans @ Bengals, 1:00PM ET
The Bengals burned me last Sunday but I’m a glutton for punishment so I’m back for more this week. I think at some point the Texans won’t be able to overcome not having guys like Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Mario Williams in the lineup. T.J. Yates outperformed a very shaky Matt Ryan last Sunday in Houston’s 17-10 victory over Atlanta, but he also didn’t pay for his biggest mistake (an interception returned for a touchdown that would have given the Falcons a second-half lead) because of a penalty on corner Dunta Robinson. I don’t point that out to criticize Yates because the bottom line is he helped the Texans notch a very huge win. But again, at some point Yates will play like a fifth-round rookie and all of these injuries that Houston has endured will eventually catch up to them. Methinks that point will be today in Cincinnati. The Bengals need to slow Arian Foster and Ben Tate to have a shot and I think they will. Their run defense has been consistent all season as long as Andy Dalton and the offense comes up with a couple of big plays, I like Cincinnati to notch a huge home win.

Falcons @ Panthers, 1:00PM ET
This is what I wrote in my Week 13 recap last Sunday: You heard it here first: “The Panthers will beat the Falcons next Sunday in Carolina. The records say different but there’s not that big of a gap between Carolina and Atlanta right now. And with two of the Falcons’ top three corners out with injuries, Cam Newton should have a field day throwing the ball.” The two corners that I was referencing was Brent Grimes (knee) and Kelvin Hayden (toe), who will miss their second and third-straight games, respectively. With the inexperienced Dominique Franks and Christopher Owens starting in Grimes and Hayden’s places, I like Carolina to pull off the small upset.

Bucs @ Jaguars, 1:00PM ET
This is the week that the Bucs get off the schnide. The Jaguars aren’t explosive offensively thanks to Blaine Gabbert and while their defense has kept them in most games, they’re extremely banged up in the secondary. Tampa Bay lacks explosion on offense itself, but I just think the Bucs are due. Some bettors will hesitate laying three points on a bad Tampa team that’s playing on the road, but this is a game where the Bucs could wind up taking all of their frustrations out on Jacksonville and cruising. I just think Tampa is due.

Raiders @ Packers, 4:15PM ET
Given how poorly the Raiders played in Miami last Sunday, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to take Oakland this Sunday against a juggernaut like Green Bay. But then again, I don’t have a ton of sense so I’m going to do it anyway. The Raiders are in a dogfight with the Broncos in the AFC West so they can ill-afford not to play well in Green Bay today. The Packers aren’t playing like they’re taking anyone lightly but I could see their defense allowing the Raiders to keep things within 10 points. I just think 11.5 is too much to be giving a team in Oakland that could wind up winning its division.

2011 NFL Week 14 Point Spreads & Odds

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton celebrates after the Panthers score against the Washington Redskins in the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, North Carolina on October 23, 2011. Carolina won 33-20 UPI/Nell Redmond .

Four spreads of note:

Giants +3 @ Cowboys, 8:30PM ET, Sunday
This game is the ultimate crapshoot; it could play out in a variety of different ways, none of which would be surprising. But if you’re looking for value, I almost always go with the underdog when it comes to betting on NFC East teams. When NFC East teams are expected to win against an inferior opponent, for whatever reason they seem to underachieve. Examples of this include the Cowboys’ loss to the Cardinals last week, or their failed cover against the Dolphins and Redskins, respectively, in previous games. The Giants also lost to the Seahawks at home, failed to cover against the Dolphins at home, and lost the Eagles as a 6-point favorite in Week 11. On the flip side, the Giants covered and won against the Eagles (Week 2), Patriots (Week 9) and Packers (Week 13) as underdogs of seven points or more. Granted, New York was also crushed by New Orleans in Week 12 but my point is this: NFC East teams often represent value when they’re the underdog and are good fade material when they’re supposed to win. I don’t have hard data here so take this simple approach with a grain of salt. But again, from a pure value standpoint it sure seems like NFC East teams rise to the challenge when they’re the dog.

Raiders +11 @ Packers, 4:15PM ET
As I’ve written many times on this site: It’s Green Bay and then everyone else. And with how poorly Oakland played last Sunday in Miami, there will be plenty of bettors that look at the spread in this game and lay the 11 points without hesitation. But let’s keep in mind that the Raiders’ backs are against the wall here. They’re now tied with Denver for first place in the AFC West and while they play undefeated Green Bay this Sunday, the Broncos have a very winnable home game against a Jay Cutler and Matt Forte-less Chicago team. Thus, we’re probably going to see Oakland’s best effort. With the amount of injuries that the Raiders accumulated in the past month, it was only a matter of time before they suffered a letdown like they did last weekend against the Dolphins. Thus, I’m thinking they bounce back strong this Sunday and at the very least stay within 10 points of the Pack.

49ers -3.5 @ Cardinals, 4:05PM ET
This is a game you look at and you say, “49ers are only -3.5? Sign me up.” But Arizona proved last Sunday in its win over Dallas that it hasn’t given up on the season despite the fact that the playoffs remain a longshot. The Rams, on the other hand, gave up weeks ago and bettors will probably rush to the window to lay coin on a Niners team that routed St. Louis by 26 points last week. What I’m saying is that this is your classic trap game. Oddsmakers claim that they don’t lay traps for bettors but why is this game only 3.5? San Fran is 10-2 this season while Arizona is 5-7. Even with home field advantage factored in, the line still seems too low. I’m not suggested that the Cards will win outright but something tells me oddsmakers are banking on this being a field goal game either way.

Falcons -3 @ Panthers, 1:00PM ET
I wrote this in my recap of Week 13 and I’ll mention it again seeing as how it relates to this article: I don’t think there’s that wide of a gap between the Falcons and Panthers right now. On paper, Atlanta has better overall talent. But on paper, Atlanta had better overall talent than Houston and it lost 17-10 despite the fact that Andre Johnson suffered another hamstring injury in the second half and T.J. Yates started for the Texans at quarterback. The Falcons will once again be without top cornerback Brent Grimes and nickel back Kelvin Hayden, which means Dominique Franks and Chris Owens will receive plenty of looks this Sunday from Cam Newton. Given the inexperience of Franks and Owens, they become a weakness that Newton may exploit. There’s always value in a home dog and given the injuries the Falcons are currently dealing with on both sides of the ball, I’d give Carolina a long look this Sunday.

2011 NFL Week 14 Odds:

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2010 NFL Week 14 Odds & Point Spreads

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler drops back to pass during the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field in Chicago on November 14, 2010.   UPI/Brian Kersey Photo via Newscom

It’s only Wednesday, but it’s never too early to take a look at Sunday’s games in the NFL. Below are five games on the Week 14 schedule where the side or total jump out to me.

Patriots (10-2) @ Bears (9-3), 4:15PM ET
Looking at this game from a public standpoint, it’s hard not to love the Patriots. The point spread is low (-3), the Pats are coming off a 45-3 beat down of the Jets on Monday night and while the Bears are 9-3, a large portion of the public seems to be waiting for them to collapse. That said, there’s always value in taking the home underdog – especially when that home dog has a winning overall record and is 4-2 at home this year. The Pats are also coming off a short week of preparation and even though Chicago is a playoff contender this year, this game could still be viewed as a possible letdown for New England (due to the fact that they’re coming off an emotional MNF win over a division rival and now have to go on the road to play a non-conference foe). If Jay Cutler and the Bears’ O-line was still a mess, I would be hesitant to add this game to my card. But seeing as how Cutler is playing very well and the offensive line has improved greatly over the past month, the Bears look like a sound play to me.

Giants (8-4) @ Vikings (5-7), 1:00PM ET
Before the last two weeks, it was a dangerous proposition to take the Vikings. Brett Favre has played like crap all year, Brad Childress was pissing players off on a routine basis and their pass rush had been non-existent. But the Vikes are 2-0 under interim head coach Leslie Frazier, who seems more committed to to getting Adrian Peterson involved than Childress was. Favre is still a mess and there’s some question whether or not he will/should start the remaining four games, but he’s still tough to beat at home. The Giants, on the other hand, have a date coming up with the Eagles next week and are highly turnover-prone. I’m thinking they might be caught looking ahead. I don’t like the number where it’s at now (-2.5), but if I can get a field goal or more with the Vikings I would hesitate playing it.

Packers (8-4) @ Lions (2-10), 1:00PM ET
I like the Lions for the same reason I like the Vikings: they’re a home dog playing a team with a huge game coming up next week. The Packers can’t afford to overlook any team, but with a trip to New England coming up next Sunday, it would be human nature to look past the lowly Lions. But Detroit has been competitive for most of the season and Drew Stanton gave them a spark last week in a loss to the Bears. If the spread was sitting at anything lower than a touchdown I’d probably pass, but at +7 there’s a lot of value in the Lions.

Falcons (10-2) @ Panthers (1-11), 1:00PM ET
I thought for sure we’d see the Falcons fall last week against the Bucs and we almost did. But I don’t have the same feelings about this week. The Panthers have been putrid all season and they’ve struggled at home against divisional foes all year. The Bucs defeated them 20-7 in Week 2 and the Saints crushed them 34-3 in Week 9. The Falcons’ defense gives up a ton of yardage but usually not a lot of points. Either way, Matt Ryan and Co. should roll this week and with another road game coming up next Sunday at Seattle, they won’t overlook Carolina. (Not to mention they’re fighting to retain the top seed in the NFC and first place in the NFC South).

Rams (6-6) @ Saints (9-3), 4:05PM ET
This one has me going back-and-forth but I like the under. The Saints can obviously score and the Rams’ defense just gave up 33 points to the Broncos two weeks ago on the road. Plus, with the way the Bengals drove up and down the field against the Saints last weekend, it would be easy to throw up your hands and take the over. But New Orleans should play better defensively this weekend and the Rams’ defense has been underrated for most of the year. The Saints have also scored 30-plus points in each of their last four games, which is a trend that is hard to keep up. This may be one that I eventually drop from my card, but as of right now the under holds so value.

Below is a complete list of odds for Week 14 in the NFL, including Thursday night’s game between the Colts and Titans.

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2009 NFL Week 14 Point Spreads & Odds

Here’s a look at this weekend’s action in the NFL.

Steelers (6-6) at Browns (1-11), 8:20PM ET Thursday
The defending champs have lost four in a row and now face a must-win against division rival Cleveland on the road. The Browns have only won one game this season, but Brady Quinn has thrown seven touchdowns and zero interceptions in his last three outings. If the Steelers overlook the Browns like they overlooked the Raiders last week, then they can kiss their playoff hopes goodbye.
Odds: Steelers -10.

Saints (12-0) at Falcons (6-6), 1:00PM ET
The Falcons’ postseason hopes are on life support thanks to a shoddy defense and a slew of injuries on the offensive side of the ball. The Saints have set their eyes on perfection, so if Matt Ryan and Michael Turner are unable to go, things could get ugly inside the Georgia Dome this Sunday.
Odds: Saints -10.5.

Packers (8-4) at Bears (5-7), 1:00PM ET
All the Packers have to do is avoid a late-season collapse and they’ll make the playoffs. Green Bay must avoid having a letdown after beating Baltimore on Monday night. Chicago is never an easy place to play in December, even when the Bears are struggling like they are now.
Odds: Packers -3.

Broncos (8-4) at Colts (12-0), 1:00PM ET
A trip to Indianapolis is the last thing the Broncos need right now while chasing the Chargers in the AFC West. But if they can knock off the undefeated Colts, they should be able to carry that momentum the rest of he season and at least clinch a Wild Card berth.
Odds: Colts -7.5.

Bengals (9-3) at Vikings (10-2), 1:00PM ET
The game of the week is in Minnesota this Sunday, as the Vikings host the best surprise in 2009, the Bengals. The Vikings will be looking to rebound from their loss to the Cardinals last Sunday, while the Bengals have their eyes set on clinching the division. Carson Palmer vs. Brett Favre should be incredibly entertaining.
Odds: Vikings -6.5.

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