Extra Points: Conte is smarter than you think

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(SportsNetwork.com) - It shouldn't be news that 25-year-old men think a lot differently than 50-year-olds but Chris Conte's recent comments sure surprised a lot of people.

The oft-injured Chicago Bears safety recently told WBBM radio in the Windy City that playing football means so much to him that he would be willing to do it even if it does take years off the end of his life.

"My life will revolve around football to some point, but I'd rather have the experience of playing and, who knows, die 10, 15 years earlier than not be able to play in the NFL and live a long life," he said. "It's something I've wanted to do with my life and I wanted to accomplish. And I pretty much set my whole life up to accomplish that goal. So I don't really look toward my life after football because I'll figure things out when I get there and see how I am."

Some well-intentioned folks feel sorry for athletes like Conte, who has suffered two documented concussions this season, along with a shoulder injury, a back problem and an eye issue.

They envision a future where the best-case scenario is a crippled individual and the worst is unspeakable things like dementia, ALS or the self-inflicted ends players like Junior Seau, Andre Waters and another Bears safety, Dave Duerson, endured.

But, legislating someone's path isn't the domain of others, well-intentioned or not.

The great Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw correctly surmised "youth is wasted on the young," a nod to the fact that younger people simply don't have the experience to make the most logical decisions at times.

Hopefully Conte does live to see the half-century mark and while there are few sure things in this world, you can rest assured that his priorities will have changed by that point. Walking a potential daughter down the aisle or seeing a grandchild grow up will become a much bigger deal than topping the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

It's a natural evolution that nearly everyone undergoes and that's why the NFL is in a very difficult spot when it comes to concussions and the long-term health of their alumni.

The vast majority of players toiling today understand the risks of playing the game and gladly sign up to do so every weekend. In an anonymous survey back in January, 85 percent of the 320 NFL players ESPN polled claimed they would play in the Super Bowl with a concussion.

The league, however, also understands that mentality will change as the years pass no matter what the players believe today.

"My reference wasn't even to concussions, just the associated risk with football and accepting the fact that life expectancy of someone who has played in the NFL is shorter than the average person," Conte told ESPNChicago.com on Wednesday. "And I'm fine with trading that risk for the opportunity to play football since it's something I have always wanted to do and a dream come true. Doing what I love outweighs risks despite injuries I have amounted this year."

But, here's the real kicker, Conte is probably making the right decision no matter what he or the rest of us think.

In 1994, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health published research examining death rates and risk factors for former NFL players based on all deaths that had occurred through 1991.

After following those players for an additional 16 years, NIOSH published new research in January of 2012 which found players had a much lower overall rate of death compared to men in the general U.S. population of similar age and racial mix.

NIOSH concluded that several factors explained why NFL players live longer than the average American male, including documented low levels of cigarette smoking, their body composition (more muscle mass) and high levels of fitness.

So, sometimes the young guys get it right ... even if they don't know it.

WEEK 16 (All Times Eastern)

Tennessee (2-12) at Jacksonville (2-12) (-3), Thursday, 8:25 p.m. - There is no flex scheduling on Thursday nights, meaning the NFL Network's television vehicle will not exactly be going out with a bang this season. You can look at 2014's final "Thursday Night Football" battle between the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars in two ways, a tilt to decide who will end up in the AFC South cellar or an opportunity to garner a better pick in the '15 NFL Draft. Neither team looks primed to much offensively but the Jags seem like the lesser of two evils here mainly because the Titans have been an abject disaster on the road, losing six straight and being outscored by an average of 34-16 in those games.

Jaguars 16, Titans 13

Philadelphia (9-5) (-9) at Washington (3-11), Saturday, 4:30 p.m. - The Eagles are up against it after losing to Dallas on Sunday night and falling one game behind the Cowboys in the NFC East. Philadelphia's easiest path to the playoffs now is winning out (against the Redskins and NY Giants) and hoping Dallas loses one of its two final games (vs. Indianapolis and at Washington). Chip Kelly has never lost to the Redskins (3-0), who will be going back to Robert Griffin III at QB now that Colt McCoy has been shut down for the year.

Eagles 24, Redskins 17

San Diego (8-6) at San Francisco (7-7) (-2 1/2), Saturday, 8:25 p.m. - The 49ers' three-year NFC Championship Game run is officially over and the Chargers playoffs hopes are on life support in this Golden State battle. San Diego QB Philip Rivers has dominated San Francisco in the past, going 2-0 and completing 48-of-64 passes for 607 yards (303.5 per game) with five TDs and a 130.1 passer rating.

Chargers 23, 49ers 14

Atlanta (5-9) at New Orleans (6-8) (-5 1/2), Sunday, 1 p.m. - Somebody has to go to the playoffs from the NFC South and two of the three possible participants meet in the Superdome here. The Saints have the inside track after topping Chicago on Monday but both NOLA and the Falcons -- who face the other team in the mix, Carolina, in Week 17 -- are in control of the division. Win out and they're in. Sean Payton's club has dropped four straight in the once cozy confines of the dome but Drew Brees is getting hot at the right time, passing for 375 yards and three TDs against the Bears en route to recording his NFL-record ninth consecutive 4,000-yard season (4,358).

"We know what's in front of us," Falcons QB Matt Ryan said. "We know what we've got to do. It's a playoff-type mentality. We've got to win next week. We've got to have the best week of practice that we've had this year and prepare as best we can."

Saints 27, Falcons 20

Kansas City (8-6) at Pittsburgh (9-5) (-3), Sunday, 1 p.m. - The Chiefs and Steelers are in the middle of the jumbled AFC playoff picture. Kansas City is one game out of a wild-card position, trailing Pittsburgh and Baltimore with two games to play. The Steelers, meanwhile, are just one half-game behind Cincinnati in AFC North with a Week 17 matchup with the Bengals looming. With a win on Sunday, Pittsburgh will lock up a playoff berth while Kansas City needs to win out to reach the postseason.

"It's a big week coming up," said Steelers cornerback William Gay. "We've put ourselves in a playoff mindset. Every day counts."

Steelers 24, Chiefs 14

Cleveland (7-7) at Carolina (5-8-1) (NL), Sunday, 1 p.m. - The Panthers are still in the NFC South hunt after topping Tampa Bay last weekend with backup Derek Anderson at the helm. It remains to be seen if Cam Newton is able to return from two transverse process fractures in his lower back suffered in a scary car accident just over a week ago. The Browns are hoping for a better performance out of Johnny Manziel, who was dismal during his first NFL start, a 30-0 whitewash at the hands of Cincinnati.

Panthers 20, Browns 13

Detroit (10-4) (-7) at Chicago (5-9), Sunday, 1 p.m. - Detroit needs two consecutive road wins to take home the NFC North, this week against Chicago and Week 17 at Green Bay. The Lions have won three straight over the Bears including a Thanksgiving Day triumph when Matthew Stafford threw for 390 yards and two scores.

Lions 28, Bears 14

Baltimore (9-5) (-5) at Houston (7-7), Sunday, 1 p.m. - The Ravens are closing in on a playoff spot and seem to have a very desirous schedule down the stretch. Baltimore will be visiting a Houston team down to its fourth QB (either Thad Lewis or the recently returning Case Keenum) with a Week 17 tangle against Cleveland and the overmatched Johnny Manziel on deck. The Ravens are 6-1 all-time against the Texans.

Ravens 23, Texans 10

Minnesota (6-8) at Miami (7-7) (- 6 1/2), Sunday, 1 p.m. - The Dolphins could be playing the final two games in the Joe Philbin era while the Vikings continue to build behind rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater, who will be aiming for a third straight game with a completion percentage over 70.0 and more than 300 yards passing.

Dolphins 20, Vikings 17

New England (11-3) (-10) at New York Jets (3-11), Sunday, 1 p.m. - The Patriots can clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win here coupled with a Denver loss at Cincinnati on Monday night. New England has won nine of its past 10 this season and seven of its past eight against the Jets. In his past six games against New York Tom Brady has passed for 1,585 yards with 12 TDs and just one interception.

Patriots 24, Jets 14

Green Bay (10-4) (-10 1/2) at Tampa Bay (2-12), Sunday, 1 p.m. - Green Bay can clinch a playoff berth with a win and some help and can still take the NFC North by winning out thanks to a Week 17 matchup with Detroit. MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers had his worst game as a professional against Buffalo's stout front last weekend but expect him to bounce back against Tampa Bay's antiquated cover-2-heavy philosophy. Rodgers still leads the NFL with a 111.2 passer rating and the Packers lead the NFC in scoring with 436 points.

Packers 34, Buccaneers 20

New York Giants (5-9) at St. Louis (6-8) (-5), Sunday, 4:05 p.m. - The Odell Beckham, Jr. show headlines in the Gateway to the West. The spectacular rookie receiver had 12 catches for 143 yards and three TDs last week against Washington, becoming the first rookie in NFL history with 12-plus catches, 140-plus yards and three-plus TDs in a game. The Rams defense, meanwhile, has not allowed a TD in three consecutive games.

Giants 17, Rams 16

Indianapolis (10-4) at Dallas (10-4) (-3), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. - Dallas holds a precarious one-game lead over Philadelphia in the NFC East after topping the Eagles last weekend while Indianapolis owns the AFC South again after staying undefeated against the Texans in the Hoosier State. With a win and a Philadelphia loss this week, the Cowboys will clinch their division for the first time since 2009. Dallas can also clinch a playoff spot with a win along with losses by Green Bay and Detroit. Indy, meanwhile, won its ninth division title in the past 12 seasons and second in a row behind quarterback Andrew Luck, who is one of only two quarterbacks (Russell Wilson) in the Super Bowl era to lead their teams to at least 10 wins in each of their first three seasons.

Cowboys 28, Colts 24

Buffalo (8-6) (-5 1/2) at Oakland (2-12), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. - The Bills' impressive front four takes aim at rookie Derek Carr here. Buffalo leads the NFL with 49 sacks and shut down presumptive NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers last weekend. The Bills are the only team with three players with nine-plus sacks (Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes). Carr leads all NFL freshman in passing yards (2,898) and passing TDs (18), both franchise rookie records.

Bills 20, Raiders 10

Seattle (10-4) (-8) at Arizona (11-3), Sunday 8:30 p.m. - The Seahawks and Cardinals will meet on Sunday night at University of Phoenix Stadium -- the site of Super Bowl XLIX -- in a key NFC West showdown. Both teams are currently in control for the division and can clinch the title by winning out. The Cards are the first team in the NFC to clinch a playoff berth but are down to their third-string QB, Ryan Lindley, after losing both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton to injury. A win here would enable Arizona to lock up the NFC West, a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Seattle, however, has won seven of its past eight games, including a Week 12 win over Arizona. A victory this week would give the Seahawks the head-to-head sweep against the Cardinals and put Seattle in position to claim the division for the second year in a row.

Seahawks 17, Cardinals 6

Denver (11-3) (-3) at Cincinnati (9-4-1), Monday, 8:30 p.m. - Week 16 concludes on Monday night with a matchup of division leaders. The Broncos have already clinched the AFC West for a fourth straight year and can lock up a first-round bye with a win. With two weeks to play, the Bengals hold a half- game lead over both Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the AFC North with a Week 17 visit to the Steel City looming. A triumph here would clinch a playoff spot for Cincinnati and a victory with losses by both Pittsburgh and Baltimore will give the Bengals the division.

Broncos 27, Bengals 21