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Week 13 Friday 10-pack

Ben Roethlisberger, Willie Colon

Developers of buildings with more than 13 floors develop triskaidekaphobia when it’s time to apply numbers.  The NFL has no such qualms when it comes to the football season.

So welcome, Week 13.  Unleash your bad-luck powers on as many teams as possible.

I’ll be back in a bit.  I’m trying to fit an open umbrella under the stepladder in my office.

1.  Is Big Ben the drama queen back?

Something strange happened on Thursday.  Not long after a report emerged that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a broken bone in his foot, the Steelers issued a statement explaining that he doesn’t.

The disclosure from the team made no sense, especially since it wasn’t required by league rules.  The Steelers must say only whether Roethlisberger practiced on Thursday, and if so whether he fully participated or participated on a limited basis in the session.

So why would the Steelers feel compelled to contradict the published report?

Rewind to January 2005.  After an AFC title-game loss to the Patriots, Roethlisberger claimed that he played with broken toes.  Coach Bill Cowher contradicted him publicly.

And thus was born the legend of Big Ben, drama queen.

Roethlisberger has at times since then embellished an injury or two, and regardless of whether Roethlisberger was the source of the report, the Steelers felt compelled to contradict it.

Of course, there’s also a chance that the Steelers are simply trying to reduce the size of the bull’s-eye on Ben’s foot — regardless of whether he’s exaggerating his condition or not.

2.  It’s finger-pointin’ time again.

When the Chiefs host the Broncos on Sunday, all eyes will be focused on the two head coaches, who punctuated their Week 10 meeting with Kansas City coach Todd Haley sticking a finger in the face of Denver coach Josh McDaniels after a 20-point win by the Broncos.

Haley has tried to downplay the matter, but it’s obvious that he’s not a big McDaniels fan.  (Then again, who is?)  Though some have speculated in the wake of Spygate II that Haley was miffed with conduct that possibly falls within the realm of cheating, it’s generally accepted in league circles that Haley didn’t appreciate the perception that the Broncos were running up the score.

With Denver reeling and the Chiefs peaking, it’ll be interesting to see whether Haley calls off the dogs — and if not whether McDaniels will show an index finger, or possibly a different finger altogether, to Haley.

3.  Beware the Bills.

Vikings fans likely are thinking that their underachieving team will win their second straight game for the first time since November 2009.  Given that the Bills bring a 2-9 record to town makes it tempting to come to that conclusion.

But let’s look at this more closely.  The Bills have pushed three likely playoff teams (the Ravens, Chiefs, and Steelers) to overtime, and Buffalo lost to the Bears by only three points.  The Vikings, after back-to-back bombs against two NFC North rivals, barely beat the Redskins.

With running back Adrian Peterson hobbled and the Minnesota defense not quite as potent as it has been in past seasons, the Bills could give the Vikings fits, just like Buffalo did the last time they came to the Metrodome in 2002, winning 45-39 in overtime.

4.  Could Packers pull off the Trifecta?

After the Packers beat the Cowboys by 38, Dallas fired coach Wade Phillips.  Seven days later, the Packers beat the Vikings by 28, and Minnesota fired coach Brad Childress.

This week, the Packers host the 49ers.  With Green Bay coming off a disappointing loss to the Falcons, the Pack could be ready to smack around the 4-7 49ers.

If the Packers pummel San Fran, could Niners coach Mike Singletary be the next one to go?  It’s unlikely that it’ll happen on Monday, but Singletary likely won’t sleep very well if he’s on the wrong end of a blowout at Lambeau.

5.  Pats have perfect offense for the Jets.

When the Patriots sent Randy Moss packing in October, plenty of people wondered whether coach Bill Belichick had lost his mind.

Six wins in seven games later, we should all be so crazy.

And so instead of seeing Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis match up with and thus shut down singlehandedly the most potent threat in the Pats’ passing game, New England has diluted its receiving corps, scattering a smattering of players on any given snap who are capable of getting open and catching the ball.

What better way to neutralize a defender who is capable of handling on his own a wideout who commands double coverage than to have him cover a guy who doesn’t?

So with the Jets capable of sending pressure from anywhere and everywhere, while Revis shuts down the No. 1 wideout, the Pats have crafted a system that distributes the ball anywhere and everywhere while happily marooning one guy on each play on Revis Island.

6.  What a difference a year makes.

Last year, when the Cardinals hosted the Rams in December, Kurt Warner’s then-current team had nine wins — and his first-former team had one.

This year, the Rams have five and the Cards have three.  More importantly, the Rams finally have found the long-term heir to Warner, while the Cardinals bumble from first-round bust to unwanted veteran to undrafted rookie who has a long way to go to become worthy of washing Warner’s dancing shoes.

And it’s all happened in only one year.

On one hand, it shows that, no matter how dark things get in a given year for a given team, fortunes quickly can change.  On the other hand, it demonstrates how quickly a “good” team can disintegrate.

7.  Prime-time games have big-time implications.

On the surface, the Monday night game between the Jets and the Patriots looks to be the biggest game of the year.  But the Sunday night contest between the Steelers and Ravens has identical implications.

The winner of each game will be on track to earn a bye.  The losers will slide into the wild-card mix, potentially forcing them to go on the road in order to work their way to the Super Bowl.

The gap will be greater if the Jets and Ravens win, since the one-game leads over the Pats and Steelers, respectively, would essentially be two games, due to the head-to-head tiebreaker.  But even if the Patriots and Steelers win, they’ll each hold a one-game lead with four to play.

Though these playoff-atmosphere games won’t have the same win-or-else stakes, the outcomes will have a lot to do with the degree of difficulty that the teams will experience come January.

8.  Bucs can bunch up the NFC field.

Bucs apologists argue that Tampa’s football franchise hasn’t beaten a playoff-caliber team because they’ll played only four of them.  They get another chance this week, when the 9-2 Falcons come to town.

And the Bucs need to win the game not just to show that they can beat a playoff team.  With four losses and five games to play, the Bucs may not get to the playoffs without beating the Falcons now or the Saints in Week 17.

In past years, 9-7 often would be enough enough to earn a wild-card berth in the NFC.  This year, with a glut of good teams at the top of the conferences, six losses could be one too many.

And if the Buccaneers can deliver to the Falcons their first 2010 loss outside the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the door would swing open for the Saints to pull even with Atlanta at the top of the NFC South, setting the stage for a high-stakes chase in the final four weeks.

9.  Still time for losers?

Since 1990, 14 teams with a losing record after 11 games have made it to the playoffs.  Most recently, the 2009 Jets started 5-6, finished 9-7, and made it to the AFC title game.

Of the teams that pulled it off, all but two were 5-6; the others were 4-7.  This year, nine teams entered Week 13 at 5-6 or 4-7.  (The Texans already have fallen to 5-7.)  At least one of the nine definitely will make the playoffs, because 5-6 currently represents the best record in the NFC West.

But here’s the thing.  The top-heavy nature of each conference, with wild-card spots currently held by teams in the AFC with records of 9-2 and 8-3 and in the NFC with records of 8-3 and 7-4, will make it even harder for the 5-6 and 4-7 teams to climb out of their current holes.  They’ll need someone like the 8-3 Steelers or 7-4 Giants to collapse down the stretch to have a shot.  (Actually, in the NFC, the losing teams need two of the three 7-4 teams to fall apart in order to open up the No. 6 seed.)

Bottom line?  Though the NFL has mastered the art of manufacturing hope from January through December, there currently may not be much hope to go around for teams that have been unable to win at least six of their first 11 games.

10.  AFC West could send a pair to the postseason.

For most of the season, most have assumed that the AFC West will send only one team to the playoffs.

And while it’s still likely that only the champion of the division will get a seat at the playoff table, there’s a growing chance that both the Chiefs and the Chargers will qualify.

The 6-5 Chargers have three straight games at home, including a Week 14 showdown against the Chiefs.  They next hit the road for Cincinnati and Denver.

The 7-4 Chiefs host the Broncos, Titans, and Raiders, wrapped around trips to San Diego and St. Louis.  Though K.C.’s path isn’t as easy as it once appeared, both could end up 10-6 or 11-5.  And if the losers of this weekend’s prime-time games commence a free-fall (like the Jets did two years ago when 8-3 became 9-7), both of the top two teams in the West could win berths in the playoffs.

We recommend wagering nothing of value on the proposition, unless you are getting really, really good odds.

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Harbaugh reportedly “torn” between NFL, Michigan

Harbaugh Getty Images

49ers coach Jim Harbaugh isn’t talking about the possibility that he’ll coach Michigan or any other football team.  Someone close to him is talking a blue streak now, Jack.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Harbaugh’s “family and friends have been encouraging him to take the Michigan HC job, but he is torn because his heart is in the NFL, per sources close to the situation.”

The report doesn’t specify the full universe family members who are urging Harbaugh to abandon California for Ann Arbor.  It’s widely believed, and it’s been consistently reported, that Harbaugh’s wife doesn’t want to leave the Bay Area.

The tension arises from the fact that Harbaugh wants to wait and see which NFL opportunities emerge and Michigan needs to know sooner than later whether to move on to Plan B.  However, Schefter points out that Harbaugh’s agent “has a good sense of realistic NFL options already.”

In part, this seems to be about getting Harbaugh’s realistic NFL options and Harbaugh’s current employer to develop a discreet understanding as to how the dominoes will fall after the regular season ends, with the team that will eventually trade for Harbaugh:  (1) firing its current head coach; (2) complying with the Rooney Rule; (3) striking a deal with the 49ers for permission to negotiate with Harbaugh; and (4) working out a contract with him.  Those dominoes all need to be properly arranged now, so that Harbaugh will know whether to wait for the inevitable NFL scenario to play itself out.

Leverage remains a key factor in this dance.  Schefter’s report seems to be a deliberate leak aimed at fleshing out Harbaugh’s NFL options now, so that Harbaugh will know what’s behind Door No. 1 before he tells Michigan thanks but no thanks for the second time in four years.

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New Ray Rice video emerges showing aftermath of incident

Ray Rice, Janay Palmer AP

After Ray Rice knocked his then-fiancée unconscious and then dragged her out of the elevator at an Atlantic City casino, cameras were still running.  ABC News has obtained 45 minutes of footage showing the aftermath of the incident.

Rice tried to prevent ABC News from obtaining the video.  A judge ruled against Rice.

“This is a time of healing and he, quite naturally, doesn’t want another media showing of what must have been the worst event of his life,” Rice’s lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, told ABC News.  “What the media ought to be focusing on is the issue of domestic violence.”

I haven’t watched the new video and don’t plan to.  Based on the description supplied by ABC News it sounds as if sheds no new light on the incident and contains nothing that objectively would be regarded as newsworthy.  Its relevance primarily comes from its existence, given that a video taken earlier that night sparked one of the most bizarre and troubling periods in NFL history.

Some extra relevance comes from that same layer of human nature that turns heads when passing the scene of an accident.  But not much.

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49ers call up NT Mike Purcell from practice squad

Mike Purcell, Glenn Dorsey AP

The 49ers have filled their open roster spot with a defensive lineman, signing nose tackle Mike Purcell from the practice squad. The club announced the move on Friday.

The 23-year-old Purcell has played two seasons with the Niners, with whom he signed as an undrafted free agent out of Wyoming in 2013. Purcell (6-3, 303) spent the entire 2013 regular season on the practice squad, as well as the first 14 games of 2014.

Now, with two games left, Purcell has a chance to suit up in a regular-season game for the first time. He will also get a raise over his practice squad salary.

The promotion of Purcell comes six days after San Francisco placed nose tackle Glenn Dorsey on season-ending injured reserve with a biceps injury.

The 49ers (7-7) play host to 8-6 San Diego on Saturday night at Levi’s Stadium.

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Two days before home finale, Jets work out seven

Greg Childs AP

NFL teams typically bring in the bulk of their tryout players on Tuesday.  The Jets, only two days away from facing the Patriots in the regular-season home finale, brought in seven players for a Friday workout.

Per a league source, the Jets took a look at quarterbacks Dominique Davis and Bryn Renner, receivers Greg Childs, Joe Morgan, and Eric Ward, linebacker Brandon Denmark, and defensive back Aaron Hester.

Childs (pictured) was a fourth-round pick of the Vikings in 2012. He suffered a torn patellar tendon in both knees as a rookie, and the Vikings released him in March.

None of the players have been signed. It’s possible that the Jets were taking advantage of an opportunity to kick tires before the offseason roster rules allow the team to expand to a maximum of 90 players on the roster.

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Ryan Mallett wants to be the Texans’ QB next season

Mallett Getty Images

The Texans’ quarterback situation is a mess right now, with the team down to fourth-stringers Case Keenum and Thad Lewis as the only healthy options. But the quarterback whose injury began this mess hopes he can stabilize the position next year.

Ryan Mallett, who became the starting quarterback only to suffer a torn pectoral muscle in his second start, says he hopes to be the starter in Houston next year. Mallett is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March, but he says he’s optimistic a deal will get done for him to return and continue working with coach Bill O’Brien.

“Yeah. Of course. I like it here. I love the system,” Mallett said. “But it’s not the time of the year to discuss that. So we’re still in season; we’re focused on the Ravens.”

Mallett is hoping to be healthy enough to get in a good offseason of work.

“I’m attacking [the rehab] every morning so we’ll see how it goes. There’s no timetable. Day-to-day. We’ll see how it feels every day,” Mallett said.

The Texans have the talent on the roster to be a good team next year if they get the quarterback position straightened out. But that’s a big “if.” Mallett hasn’t yet proven he can be a good NFL starter. He just wants to get the opportunity to do that in Houston next year.

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DeMarco Murray is determined to play

Murray AP

Officially listed as questionable, unofficially Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is determined to play on Sunday against the Colts.

Murray, per a source with knowledge of the situation, declared even before having surgery to repair a broken bone in his hand on Monday that he will play in Week 16.  At this point, it’s believed to be primarily a matter of pain tolerance and management.

Sure, there’s risk.  But Murray is willing to accept it — and he wants to prove that he can play in every game of an NFL regular season for the first time in his career.

He’s also chasing a new contract and 2,000 yards rushing.  So the stakes are high and Murray fully intends to play.

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Week 16 injury report roundup

Denver Broncos v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

Over the course of the week, there are a lot of posts about the most prominent injured players but we know that you might not see all of them and that some others may fall through the cracks. As a result, we’ll comb through all the injury reports every Friday afternoon so that there’s one stop for all the news from every team playing on Saturday and Sunday. So, without further delay, the injury report roundup for Week 16 of the 2014 season.

Eagles at Redskins

The Eagles ruled out quarterback Nick Foles (collarbone) and linebacker Trent Cole (hand) early in the week and have no other injury issues. The Redskins ruled out defensive end Jason Hatcher (knee) and linebacker Gabe Miller (ankle) and they’re likely to be without linebacker Keenan Robinson (knee, doubtful). Tackle Trent Williams (shoulder) is questionable.

Chargers at 49ers

Any concern about quarterback Philip Rivers (chest, back) dissipated when the Chargers listed him as probable, but wide receiver Keenan Allen (collarbone), running back Ryan Mathews (ankle) and punter Mike Scifres (shoulder) are all out. Tight end Ladarius Green (ankle, concussion) and defensive tackle Corey Liuget (ankle) are both questionable. A long 49ers injury report starts with linebacker Chris Borland (ankle), cornerback Tramaine Brock (hamstring), running back Carlos Hyde (ankle) and wide receiver Steve Johnson (knee) being ruled out. It continues to questionable tags for linebacker Ahmad Brooks (thumb), wide receiver Michael Crabtree (knee), tackle Anthony Davis (concussion), running back Frank Gore (concussion), safety Raymond Ventrone (groin) and linebacker Michael Wilhoite (hip) before moving on to eight probable players.

Browns at Panthers

Tight end Gary Barnidge (rib), linebacker Karlos Dansby (knee), cornerback Joe Haden (shoulder), wide receiver Marlon Moore (knee), cornerback Robert Nelson (hamstring) and linebacker Jabaal Sheard (foot) are all questionable for the Browns. Safety Tashaun Gipson (knee) and cornerback K’Waun Williams (hamstring) have been ruled out. Quarterback Cam Newton (back) is probable for the Panthers after missing last week’s game. Cornerback Carrington Byndom (hamstring), linebacker A.J. Klein (knee), guard Amini Silatolu (knee) and running back DeAngelo Williams (hand) are all listed as questionable.

Lions at Bears

Cornerback Mohammed Seisay (hamstring) is questionable for the Lions and defensive tackle Nick Fairley (knee) remains out, but the Lions don’t have any other injury issues this week. The Bears ruled out safety Chris Conte (back) and kicker Robbie Gould (quad) and they listed four players — cornerback Tim Jennings (ankle), guard Kyle Long (hip), defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (knee) and defensive tackle Will Sutton (illness) — as questionable.

Ravens at Texans

The Ravens listed defensive end Chris Canty (ankle) as questionable, but the rest of the injury report is made up of probables. Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (ankle, questionable) will be a game-time decision, but wide receiver Andre Johnson (concussion, probable) is expected to play. Tight end Garrett Graham (ankle), linebacker Mike Mohamed (concussion), quarterback Tom Savage (knee) and guard Xavier Su’a-Filo (back) have all been ruled out.

Vikings at Dolphins

The Vikings announced linebacker Anthony Barr will have season-ending knee surgery and guard Charlie Johnson (ankle) will also be out this week. Tight end Kyle Rudolph (ankle, knee) will probably join them after drawing a doubtful tag. Guard Dallas Thomas (foot) and running back Daniel Thomas (knee) give the Dolphins a pair of doubtful Thomases. Linebacker Jelani Jenkins (foot), safety Don Jones (shoulder) and cornerback Jamar Taylor (shoulder) are all questionable.

Falcons at Saints

Wide receiver Julio Jones (hip, questionable) is a game-time decision after missing practice all week and the Falcons will also wait to make calls on guard Jon Asamoah (back) and safety William Moore (foot). Tackle Terron Armstead (neck), defensive end Akiem Hicks (ankle) and safety Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) are all questionable for the Saints and make up their entire injury report.

Patriots at Jets

Quarterback Tom Brady (ankle) is probable for the Patriots. Everyone else on the injury report — 12 players including wide receiver Julian Edelman (thigh, concussion) and linebacker Dont’a Hightower (shoulder) — is questionable. Jets safety Rontez Miles (shin) is out after injuring himself in practice after being called up from the practice squad. Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (toe) is questionable after missing the last two games.

Chiefs at Steelers

The Chiefs have plenty of probables, including running back Jamaal Charles (knee/ankle), but wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (illness) and linebacker Tamba Hali (knee) are the only questionable players for Sunday. The Steelers don’t expect to have safety Troy Polamalu (knee) or cornerback Ike Taylor (shoulder, forearm) after listing them as doubtful.

Packers at Buccaneers

Packers tackle Bryan Bulaga (concussion, questionable) is waiting to be cleared while cornerback Davon House (shoulder) will be out. Running back Eddie Lacy (eye) is probable. The Buccaneers listed linebacker Mason Foster (achilles), cornerback Isaiah Frey (ankle), safety Dashon Goldson (shin), defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (hamstring), tackle Kevin Pamphile (ankle, knee) and wide receiver Solomon Patton (foot) as questionable. They also ruled safety Major Wright (ribs) out for Sunday.

Giants at Rams

The Giants listed Rashad Jennings (ankle) as out and linebacker Jameel McClain (knee) as probable. That’s their entire report, while the Rams go one better by listing three players as probable.

Colts at Cowboys

The Colts will be missing tackle Gosder Cherilus (groin), guard Joe Reitz (ankle) and guard Hugh Thornton (knee) on the offensive line and the status of cornerback Vontae Davis (groin) and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (hamstring) is questionable. Running back DeMarco Murray (hand) is questionable for the Cowboys, who also have concerns about right tackle Doug Free (ankle, doubtful) and right guard Zack Martin (ankle, questionable). Defensive tackle Josh Brent (calf) and linebacker Dekoda Watson (hamstring) are out.

Bills at Raiders

The Bills head to Oakland in good shape on the injury front. Tight end Chris Gragg (knee, questionable) is the only player listed as anything other than probable. Things are less pleasant on the Raiders side, where cornerback Tarell Brown (foot), wide receiver Vincent Brown (groin), cornerback Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring), tight end Brian Leonhardt (concussion), wide receiver Denarius Moore (knee, ankle) and tackle Menelik Watson (foot, ankle) have been ruled out. Cornerback D.J. Hayden (back) and defensive end C.J. Wilson (knee) are both questionable.

Seahawks at Cardinals

The Seahawks will vie for first place without left tackle Russell Okung (chest) and doubt that they’ll have center Max Unger (ankle, knee). Defensive end Damarcus Dobbs (ankle) is also doubtful and tight end Tony Moeaki (shoulder) is questionable. The Cardinals kept the door open for quarterback Drew Stanton (knee), but it doesn’t look like he’ll walk through it after being listed as doubtful. Guard Jonathan Cooper (wrist) is out and wide receiver Jaron Brown (toe) is questionable.

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Calvin Pace says it has “been a pleasure” to play the Patriots

New York Jets v New England Patriots Getty Images

The Patriots turn perceived and/or actual opponent slights into fuel used to stoke their already legendary collective competitive fire. Just last week, they used the Dolphins’ words from September as inspiration, and we know how this turned out for poor Miami.

On Sunday, the 3-11 Jets now get a crack at New England, and it figures to be a tall order for Rex Ryan’s club. But we know this much: the Jets don’t seem to be giving the Patriots much bulletin-board material.

Earlier in the week, Ryan praised coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, calling them “first-ballot” Hall of Famers. And on Friday, Jets veteran outside linebacker Calvin Pace showed further respect to the Pats.

“It’s been a pleasure to play them,” Pace said, according to Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post. “They bring out the best in you. Bring your best or they’ll blow you out.”

The suspicion here is the Patriots hold the Jets in similar esteem. When both clubs had their fastball, this was football at its most skilled, its most compelling.

Though the Patriots have won 8-of-12 games vs. the Jets in Ryan’s tenure, his best teams gave New England all it could handle, with New York’s 2010 divisional-round victory in Foxborough the shining example.

With seven seasons in the Jets-Patriots rivalry to his credit, Pace’s words carry a little extra weight. The highs and lows — he’s lived them. And no matter what happens Sunday or what decisions the Jets make after the season, this remains unchanged: the Ryan-era Jets kept the Belichick-era Pats honest like few other clubs.

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Junior Galette not on injury report, but expects limited role on Sunday

New Orleans Saints v Pittsburgh Steelers AP

Saints linebacker Junior Galette had two sacks in 27 snaps against the Bears on Monday night and it sounds like the Saints will be looking for the same kind of efficient production from him against the Falcons this Sunday.

Galette wasn’t on the injury report at all this week, but said Friday that the knee injury he suffered against the Panthers two weeks ago is still troubling him. As a result, he expects to be used in a limited role again this weekend as the Saints try to take another step toward the NFC South title.

“Probably the same thing going into this game. Kind of ease off the knee a little bit,” Galette said, via ESPN.com. “Right now my knee’s not 100 percent. So just being smart and making sure I’m not playing 60 snaps on half a knee.”

Galette leads the Saints with nine sacks this season.

Among players that do appear on the injury report for New Orleans this week, left tackle Terron Armstead (neck) and safety Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) are both questionable after missing practice all week. Bryce Harris would replace Armstead and Kenny Vaccaro could return to the starting lineup should Sanford miss the game.

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Santana Moss fined $22,050 for abusive language to officials

Santana Moss AP

Wide receiver Santana Moss expressed regret for blowing his top at the end of the first half of last week’s loss to the Giants and he’ll have to make some financial concessions as well.

According to multiple reports, Moss has been fined $22,050 for his abusive language to officials after a replay review wiped out what had initially been ruled a Robert Griffin III touchdown run. Moss was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct and ejected from the game.

The play ended the half with the Redskins up 10-7 and the Giants tied the game with a field goal after opening the half with a successful onside kick that got them the ball in Washington territory. Moss apologized “for being wrong” and letting his emotions get the best of him.

After the game, referee Jeff Triplette told a pool reporter that Moss was ejected because he used “very, very inappropriate language” toward field judge Alex Kemp after he’d already gone far enough to draw the flag for unsportsmanlike conduct.

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Philip Rivers is probable, but Allen and Mathews out

Philip+Rivers+Seattle+Seahawks+v+San+Diego+_ui9MplvjM6l Getty Images

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers will be there.

But two of his most productive teammates won’t be.

The Chargers have officially listed Rivers as probable, meaning there’s a virtual certainty he’ll play Saturday night against the 49ers, after a week of conflicting reports about the health of his back.

But neither wide receiver Keenan Allen nor running back Ryan Mathews will join him, which will limit Rivers’ ability to put points on the board.

Of course, they’re playing against a banged up 49ers defense, so it might not matter as much.

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DeAndre Hopkins questionable after sitting out third straight practice

Tennessee Titans v Houston Texans Getty Images

The Texans will wait until Sunday to make a call on wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

After a third straight missed practice, Hopkins (ankle) is listed as questionable on the injury report. According to Drew Dougherty of Texans TV, head coach Bill O’Brien indicated Hopkins’ status will be determined the morning before Houston hosts Baltimore.

The 22-year-old Hopkins has hauled in 69 passes for 1,167 yards and six touchdowns this season. The Texans’ No. 1 pick in 2013, Hopkins has yet to miss a game in his NFL career.

While Hopkins is questionable, wideout Andre Johnson (concussion) is poised to return after a one-game absence. Johnson is listed as probable.

At 7-7, the Texans are two games out of the final wild-card spot with just two left to play.

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Documents show ESPN mischaracterized evidence from Rice appeal

Miller email

Last week, a kerfuffle erupted between the NFL and ESPN regarding an ESPN report that focused on one key portion of the Ray Rice appeal process.  Specifically, the league accused ESPN of distorting the testimony and the evidence.

The fight centered on the impression created by Don Van Natta, Jr. that, only one day before Commissioner Roger Goodell told the owners via memo that the league tried on multiple occasions to obtain the notorious Ray Rice elevator video from law enforcement agencies, the league’s lead investigator, Jim Buckley, wrote in an email to NFL security chief Jeff Miller,  “I never contacted anyone about the tape.”  Last Friday, the NFL said in a statement, “That is a quote not from an email, but from an argument by Rice’s own attorney mischaracterizing the evidence.”

It may look like a Ralph Macchio “I shot the clerk?“-style misunderstanding, but it’s not.  PFT has obtained a copy of the email in question, along with a copy of the key page from the transcript of the Rice appeal hearing.  On this point, the NFL is right.

In the email in question, the NFL’s lead investigator does not say “I never contacted anyone about the tape.”  That quote comes from a question posed to NFL V.P. of security Jeff Miller at the Rice appeal hearing.  The NFL’s lawyer objected to the characterization of the e-mail, and hearing officer Barbara S. Jones said, “I can read them.”

Apparently, no one from ESPN read them.  Again, the email from the NFL’s lead investigator does not say, “I never contacted anyone about the tape.”  Nevertheless, the ESPN article as published (and as still existing on ESPN.com) declares, “The last e-mail on the chain from Buckley says: ‘I never contacted anyone about the tape.’

It’s clear that Van Natta based his assertion not on the email but on lawyer Jeffrey Kessler’s mischaracterization of it.  Indeed, Van Natta tracks verbatim the question posed by Kessler to Miller:  “The last e-mail on the chain says, ‘I never contacted anyone about the tape.'”

ESPN has said on multiple occasions regarding this issue, “We stand by our reporting.”  PFT asked ESPN to release the entire transcript, but ESPN declined to do so.  (PFT also contacted the hearing officer last Friday with a request that the entire transcript plus exhibits be released publicly, but received no response.)

Frankly, ESPN shouldn’t stand by its reporting on this specific point.  Van Natta made a mistake.  ESPN should admit it and fix it.  Unless and until ESPN does, the NFL has a good reason to be upset with the company that once pulled the plug on a popular fictional show about pro football at the behest of former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

In this specific case, the documents PFT has obtained show that the NFL is right, ESPN is wrong, and next year’s Monday Night Football schedule possibly will consist of Titans-Jaguars, multiple times over.

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Washington puts Brandon Meriweather on IR

Meriweather AP

Brandon Meriweather has been dealing with a toe injury that’s kept him inactive the last three weeks, and now it’s going to keep him out for the year.

Washingnton announced that the veteran safety was being placed on injured reserve.

They filled his roster spot with linebacker Steve Beauharnais, promoting him from the practice squad.

Meriweather’s about to turn 31, and will be a free agent this offseason, and the toe injury won’t help his market.

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DeMarco Murray questionable, won’t have to run “gauntlet” to prove he can play

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The Cowboys haven’t officially ruled running back DeMarco Murray in the lineup for Sunday’s game against the Colts, but things certainly appear to be trending that way.

Murray has been listed as questionable for the game, which will kick off less than a week after he had surgery on a broken bone in his left hand. Murray said that the decision to play with a protective shell on his hand will rest with him, something owner Jerry Jones confirmed on Thursday, and  coach Jason Garrett said Friday that the team isn’t going to force Murray to prove his hand can take a beating in order to put him in the lineup.

“We’re not going to create a situation where OK, go through the gauntlet and everyone is going to beat on your hand,” Garrett said, via the Dallas Morning News. “We ain’t doing that. But hopefully when you see him practice he looks like himself. His feedback matters. His mindset, his mentality matters, it matters more than anything else. But then we’ll look at it and see if he’s looking like himself.”

If Murray really is going to make the final call, it is hard to believe he’ll choose not to play. Whether for individual reasons associated with showing toughness or impending free agency or because it’s a crucial game for the team, players typically want to play and nothing Murray’s done this week suggests he feels otherwise.

Right guard Zack Martin is questionable and right tackle Doug Free is doubtful after a week spent tending to ankle injuries. Jermey Parnell will likely start in Free’s place.

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