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Julio Jones' injury rocks Atlanta Falcons; international influence

The NFL's Tuesday announcement that it is adding a third game to the International Series at London's Wembley Stadium next year generated lots of questions and, more importantly, a good excuse to go listen to The Clash's "London Calling" (you should be doing this anyway). But that is still a year away.

More pressing is the foot injury that will force Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones to miss the rest of the season. Let's just get the bad news over with.

These depressing questions are closely related, so we'll answer them together. On Tuesday, we found out that Jones was seeking a second opinion on the right foot injury he suffered Monday night, with the fear that he could be done for the season. On Wednesday, this fear became reality: Jones will have season-ending surgery on his foot next week. This isn't the star receiver's first foot ailment -- at the NFL Scouting Combine, he ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash BEFORE having surgery to repair a fracture. But there will be no freakish athletic undertakings in the wake of this injury -- just a promising young season coming to an abrupt end. Through Week 5, Jones leads the NFL in receptions (41) and ranks second in receiving yards (580), behind New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.


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That is a short way of saying this is devastating for a team that cannot afford one more shred of bad news. At 1-4, the Falcons already sit four games behind New Orleans in the NFC South. So their only real hope would be a wild-card berth anyway, but this is like saying the New York Giants still have a chance to win the NFC East. Yes, mathematically, they do -- but first, they actually have to win a game again.

The Falcons' problems were on full display in Monday's loss to the New York Jets -- atrocious offensive-line play, a virtually non-existent running game, a struggling pass rush, difficult times in the red zone.

Compounding the blow of losing Jones is Roddy White's hamstring injury, which will allow opponents to double-team Tony Gonzalez -- unless he's in the red zone, where basically the entire opposing franchise (including the water boy) will cover him.

Atlanta has a lot to overcome simply to win a game, let alone grab a playoff spot. The Falcons are a good reminder that there is no such thing as building on the previous year. They were a few plays away from the Super Bowl last season. Now, they have to wonder when their next victory comes.

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I'm sure some creative mind could come up with a way to lessen the impact of the short week of preparation -- maybe have Thursday participants only play the 1 p.m. ET games on the preceding Sunday -- but the reality is that if the teams are playing the week before, they really have just one and a half days to prepare for "Thursday Night Football." This leads to the kind of ragged play we sometimes see on Thursdays.

The greater issue is if, over the long haul, there are more injuries during and after Thursday night games because of the reduced recovery time from the previous contest -- and if there are, whether there is anything that can be done to ameliorate this. Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday the NFL has no information to indicate that there are more injuries because of Thursday night games.

The league isn't going to change the setup of Thursday night games, though -- there is no chance they are eliminated, for instance. They have proven popular with viewers and allow the NFL to spread its footprint to another day of the week. When the NFL first considered playing on Thursday, there was concern about diluting the product. That hasn't proven to be the case at all, so there won't be any turning back.

Well phrased! I'm assuming your big concern is the injury to EJ Manuel. Really, there is nothing to do there but wait. I think the franchise did the right thing in not acquiring another quarterback (instead promoting Thad Lewis from the practice squad to the starting lineup). Manuel clearly is the QB of the future in Buffalo. The knee injury was a bad break, but you obviously want him back on the field as soon as he's ready.

As for falling on their faces ... The Bills are a rebuilding team with a new management group and a rookie quarterback. It takes a little time, but I think Buffalo is headed in the right direction.

We already know the three home teams: the Falcons, Raiders and Jaguars. So Nigel raises the obvious question: Who will these squads oppose across the pond? Look to the non-divisional opponents on the home schedules of Atlanta, Oakland and Jacksonville. These are the matchups that move to London.

Let's examine Jacksonville, for example. Obviously, next year's schedule is not entirely set, as certain matchups depend on this season's final standings. But as of right now, the Jaguars have non-divisional home games slated against the Browns, Steelers, Cowboys and Giants. Pittsburgh just went to London in Week 4, so you probably can eliminate the Steelers. But the Browns, Cowboys and Giants are possibilities.

This isn't an apples-to-apples comparison, because basketball is played in more countries than football is. American-style football is not played worldwide, though we've seen scattered experiments with trying to convert rugby players. But before we witness a steady stream of international players drafted into the NFL -- the way we've see players from Europe (or a Yao Ming) scooped up by NBA teams -- the game has to be more widely played, starting at the youngest ages, across the world.

Short answer on who wins out: the people who pay attention to the bottom line. The London market has the potential to be staggeringly lucrative and open up a new gusher of a revenue stream for the NFL. It is one of the world's financial, media and cultural capitals, and putting a team there would give the NFL a foothold to grow in Europe.

A franchise across the pond might seem unrealistic, but the NFL will put plenty of energy and brainpower into figuring out how to make it work -- whether that means giving a London team a U.S. base of scouting operations where it can work out players, or factoring in multi-game road trips to limit trans-Atlantic travel.

Those are logistical issues, and Commissioner Goodell said putting a team in London is still a ways off. Adding a third game at Wembley next year is about growing the fan base. The NFL has to be careful to do this correctly -- nobody wants to put a team in London permanently, only to have the franchise fail and fan interest cool.

Right now, the games are a well-supported novelty. One of the most influential owners in the league, the New England Patriots' Robert Kraft, is an outspoken proponent of the London market, and he has made no secret about thinking the NFL should have a team there within a decade. Kraft doesn't speak haphazardly about league matters, so you had better believe these are conversations that have been had repeatedly at the highest levels of the league.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista. To submit a question for the mailbag, use the hashtag #AskJudy.

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