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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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Baalke apologizes to Roman for daughter’s tweet

Baalke Getty Images

After the 49ers lost to the Seahawks on Thursday night, the daughter of 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke posted on Twitter with the following statement directed at 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman: “The 49ers don’t want you no more.”

Now Baalke has apologized.

“My daughter and I both regret that her feelings got the best of her after last night’s game and that she chose social media as an avenue to express her feelings. We have apologized to Greg for this unfortunate matter. While disappointed, as a father I will use this as a teachable moment to help my daughter grow,” Baalke said in a statement.

Baalke can apologize, but he can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. And whether he likes it or not, Baalke’s daughter’s tweet strongly suggests what she has heard negative things about Roman from her father. Which is one more piece of evidence that there’s a rift in San Francisco between Baalke and those loyal to him, and Jim Harbaugh and those loyal to him. Harbaugh and Roman are close, and have been since before Harbaugh was the coach of the 49ers — Roman was also Harbaugh’s offensive coordinator at Stanford, and Harbaugh brought him along when he took the 49ers job.

Harbaugh may very well take Roman along when he takes another job. Perhaps as soon as a month from now, when the 49ers’ season comes to an end, and Harbaugh and Baalke can go their separate ways.

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Dolphins bring back Don Jones

New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

The Dolphins are reuniting with one of their picks in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Miami has been awarded safety Don Jones on waivers from New England, the claiming club said Friday.

In a corresponding roster move, the Dolphins waived first-year cornerback Lowell Rose.

The Dolphins waived the 24-year-old Jones after the preseason, and the Patriots claimed him the next day. In nine games with New England, Jones was credited with eight special teams tackles, according to club statistics.

The Dolphins selected Jones in the seventh round in 2013. The Arkansas State product has appeared in 25 regular season games, including 16 with Miami as a rookie.

The Dolphins and Patriots meet on December 14 in Foxborough. The Dolphins won the first matchup between the clubs in Week One.

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Ginsberg takes aim at Goodell

Goodell AP

In recent years, lawyer Peter Ginsberg has become a major agitator as it relates to the NFL’s ability to impose discipline against players.  From the StarCaps case to the Saints bounty scandal to the Ray Rice case, Ginsberg has become a fairly large thorn in the NFL’s legal underbelly.

In the wake of the ruling overturning Rice’s indefinite suspension, Ginsberg issued a statement that takes aim at Commissioner Roger Goodell.

“On the heels of Bountygate, Commissioner Roger Goodell has shown once again that he does not follow the rules in his treatment of players and that his judgment cannot be trusted” Ginsberg said.  “Under his leadership, the NFL ignored for years the need to create a stronger and more constructive program to address domestic abuse. As we all know, the Rice incident is not an isolated one.  It was only in the face of a public outcry, however, that the NFL finally took a step in the right direction with its new domestic violence policy.

“But rather than admitting he had been ignoring the domestic violence issue for years, and had failed to subject past violators to real scrutiny, Commissioner Goodell turned his own failings on Ray by punishing him a second time for an offense about which Commissioner Goodell had been fully and completely aware when he imposed the original suspension.  That action threatened to end Ray’s career.  And in so doing, Commissioner Goodell ignored the basic principle that every worker must be treated in a manner consistent with past punishments and in accordance with published procedures.

“Second punishments for the same conduct are unprecedented and not permitted as a matter of basic and fundamental principle. Perhaps now, finally, NFL owners will give real thought to whether the ‘NFL shield’ should tolerate a leader who fails to lead in important areas like domestic violence and who time and again ignores the League’s workers’ due process rights and the right to be treated with fundamental fairness. There are many lessons to be learned from this unfortunate event – Ray is well on his way to learning his from this awful event.  Time will tell whether the NFL and NFL owners are learning theirs as well.”

It’s unclear whether the Rice ruling will trigger specific action by NFL ownership.  However, the decision sets the stage for a potentially scathing report from former FBI director Robert Mueller, whose analysis could end up wreaking real havoc at 345 Park Avenue.

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Lance Briggs goes to IR, and his days in Chicago may be over

Chicago Bears v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Bears linebacker Lance Briggs is done for the season. And perhaps done for Chicago.

Briggs, the veteran who has spent his entire 12-year career with the Bears and been chosen to seven Pro Bowls, was placed on injured reserve today. That means the groin injury that has hampered him this season will now end his season.

It may also end his tenure with the Bears. There was already talk in Chicago that he wasn’t always seeing eye to eye with coach Marc Trestman and his staff, and at age 34 Briggs is not the same player he once was. Briggs, who is in the final year of his contract, acknowledged early this month that he’s probably not long for Chicago.

“I know the reality of it and I’m proud of all the years I’ve had here. It’s been great. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation,” Briggs said.

Now it’s time for Chicago to say goodbye to Briggs.

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Week 13 injury report roundup

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals 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 Sunday. So, without further delay, the injury report roundup for Week 13 of the 2014 season.

Chargers at Ravens

The Chargers should have running back Ryan Mathews (shoulder, probable), but defensive tackle Ryan Carrethers (elbow) is out and linebacker Andrew Gachkar (knee) is doubtful after missing practice all week. Ravens wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring) is questionable after missing the last three games. Linebackers Pernell McPhee (elbow) and Terrell Suggs (foot) are both probable.

Browns at Bills

Linebacker Karlos Dansby (knee) will miss another game for the Browns, who are hopeful that tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion, questionable) can play for the first time since Week Eight. Wide receiver Marlon Moore (hamstring) and safety Tashaun Gipson (knee) are also out, while defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (back) and linebacker Jabaal Sheard (foot) are questionable. Defensive end Jarius Wynn (knee), safety Bacarri Rambo (hamstring), tight end Chris Gregg (knee) are out for Buffalo, which brings an otherwise healthy group into Sunday.

Titans at Texans

Titans linebacker Kamerion Wimbley (hamstring) is out. Four players — tackles Taylor Lewan (ankle) and Michael Oher (toe), safety Michael Griffin (shoulder) and defensive back Marqueston Huff (hamstring) — are questionable. The Texans expect running back Arian Foster (groin) back in the lineup, but linebacker Jadeveon Clowney will miss another game with lingering knee pain resulting from his torn meniscus earlier in the season. Linebacker Akeem Dent (neck) is questionable.

Redskins at Colts

Washington brings a slew of questionable players with them to Indianapolis. Tackle Trent Williams (knee,ankle), tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring), defensive end Jason Hatcher (knee), safety Ryan Clark (stinger) and cornerback E.J. Biggers (concussion) are the notable members of that group. Colts tight end Dwayne Allen (ankle) is out again this week and he’ll be joined on the sideline by guard Hugh Thornton (knee), linebacker Andy Studebaker (hamstring) and tackle Xavier Nixon (foot). Cornerback Darius Butler (knee) is questionable after popping up on the injury report on Thursday.

Giants at Jaguars

Offensive lineman Adam Snyder (knee), defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf) and linebacker Jacquian Williams (concussion/shoulder) are all out for the Giants. Right tackle Justin Pugh (quad) and defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka (knee) are questionable. Linebackers LaRoy Reynolds (neck) and Jeremiah George (hamstring) are questionable for the Jags and defensive end Andre Branch (groin, probable) is on track to return.

Panthers at Vikings

The Panthers listed Amini Silatolu (knee) as doubtful, but they’ve already announced Mike Remmers will get the start at right tackle. On the defensive line, Star Lotulelei (ankle) is doubtful and defensive end Charles Johnson (illness) is questionable. The Vikings listed running back Jerick McKinnon (back) as doubtful, but McKinnon ruled himself out on Friday. Tight end Chase Ford (hamstring, foot) and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee) are questionable.

Saints at Steelers

The Saints ruled out linebacker Kyle Knox (hand) and running back Khiry Robinson (forearm). Cornerback Keenan Lewis (knee) is probable for the reunion with his previous team. Safety Troy Polamalu (knee) and cornerback Ike Taylor (arm) are probable to return to the lineup for Pittsburgh, although linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee) is less certain to return after being listed as questionable. Cornerback Cortez Allen (thumb) and defensive tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder) are both out this week.

Raiders at Rams

There were some encouraging signs earlier in the week, but the Raiders have ruled out running back Latavius Murray (concussion). Safety Jonathan Dowling (back), cornerback Carlos Rogers (knee) and cornerback Neiko Thorpe (hand) have also been ruled out and guard Gabe Jackson (knee) is questionable. Rams cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle), while defensive tackle Alex Carrington (thigh) and safety Lamarcus Joyner (groin) are both questionable. The Rams have not activated defensive end Chris Long (ankle) from injured reserve and will make a call on his status this weekend.

Bengals at Buccaneers

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict (knee) will spend another week on the bench for the Bengals. Defensive end Margus Hunt (knee) is also out and linebacker Nico Johnson (illness) is questionable. So are Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David (hamstring), center Evan Dietrich-Smith (illness), defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (hamstring), tight end Brandon Myers (calf), tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (back), tight end Luke Stocker (concussion) and safety Major Wright (shoulder).

Cardinals at Falcons

It’s a game-time decision for Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (knee,questionable). Linebacker Kenny Demens (hamstring) and defensive tackle Ed Stinson (toe) are out. Defensive tackle Paul Soliai (not injury related) and wide receiver Roddy White (ankle) are both questionable for the Falcons, who won’t have cornerback Robert Alford (wrist) this week.

Patriots at Packers

The Patriots listed long snapper Danny Aiken (concussion), guard Dan Connolly (ankle), defensive end Dominique Easley (knee), tackle Cameron Fleming (ankle, finger), defensive end Chandler Jones (hip), wide receiver Brandon LaFell (shoulder), running back Shane Vereen (ankle) and linebacker Chris White (ankle) as questionable. No reason to worry about Tom Brady (ankle), though: He’s probable. Cornerback Jarrett Bush (groin, questionable) and linebacker Nick Perry (shoulder, questionable) are the only injury concerns for the Packers.

Broncos at Chiefs

Cornerback Aqib Talib (hamstring) and tight end Julius Thomas (ankle) are questionable after doing limited practice work this week. Running backs Montee Ball (groin) and Ronnie Hillman (foot) will miss another week and cornerback Kayvon Webster (shoulder) joins them on the sideline. The Chiefs won’t have wide receiver Junior Hemingway (concussion), but Donnie Avery (sports hernia surgery, probable) should be back after a long absence from the lineup. Cornerback Christopher Owens (knee, abdomen) and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson (calf) are both questionable.

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Lardarius Webb fined $16,537 for horse-collar tackle

Joe Morgan, Lardarius Webb AP

On the second play of Monday night’s Ravens win over the Saints, Baltimore cornerback Lardarius Webb saved a touchdown by dragging Saints wide receiver Joe Morgan down on the 2-yard-line with a horse-collar tackle.

The play was flagged as a personal foul and Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that Webb has been fined $16,537 by the NFL for the infraction. It’s a tidy sum of money, but well spent from the Ravens’ perspective.

The Ravens Defense was able to stop the Saints on four straight plays after Webb’s tackle stopped Morgan after a 67-yard run on an end around. The Ravens drove for a touchdown on the ensuing possession, putting them up seven points on the way to a 34-27 victory.

Wilson also reports that neither Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith nor Saints safety Kenny Vacarro were fined for an altercation that saw Vacarro penalized during the game. Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata also avoided a fine for a roughing the passer penalty.

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Ray Rice thanks judge, apologizes to his wife

Ray Rice, Janay Palmer

The NFLPA has every reason to gloat, for what is clearly a big win for the union with the reinstatement of former Ravens running back Ray Rice.

Rice, on the other hand, needs to show a bit more contrition since this whole deal began with him punching his wife in the face.

In a statement sent out by the union, Rice again expressed remorse for assaulting his wife Janay.

“I would like to thank Judge Barbara Jones, the NFL Players Association, my attorneys, agents, advisors, family, friends and fans — but most importantly, my wife Janay,” Rice said. “I made an inexcusable mistake and accept full responsibility for my actions. I am thankful that there was a proper appeals process in place to address this issue.

“I will continue working hard to improve myself and be the best husband, father and friend, while giving back to my community and helping others to learn from my mistakes.”

Whether he plays another down of football, fixing that relationship will be his biggest priority.

Rice said previously that at some point he hoped to be able to become an advocate in the fight against violence toward women.

Today clearly puts him a step closer to that, but only time will tell if his actions match his words.

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NFLPA hopes Rice decision helps “fix a broken process”

Super Bowl XLVIII NFLPA Press Conference Getty Images

Let the gloating begin.

In the wake of Judge Barbara Jones reinstating former Ravens running back Ray Rice, the players union has responded to what it views as a big win.

“This decision is a victory for a disciplinary process that is fair and transparent,” the NFLPA said in a statement. “This union will always stand up and fight for the due process rights of our players. While we take no pleasure in seeing a decision that confirms what we have been saying about the Commissioner’s office acting arbitrarily, we hope that this will bring the NFL owners to the collective bargaining table to fix a broken process.

“It is clear that this decision should force the NFL to embrace neutral arbitration as part of a necessary due process in all cases. The players thank Judge Barbara Jones for her time and thoroughness in this matter.”

While the players had the opportunity to bargain collectively for changes to this system previously, it’s clear that it will be a big issue next time they negotiate, and they’ll use this as evidence that Goodell has too much power.

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Janay Rice: My apology followed the Ravens’ suggested script

Ray Rice, Janay Rice AP

One of the many ugly elements of the Ray Rice domestic violence case was the way the victim, Janay Rice, was treated in some quarters like she deserved blame for the incident. That was exemplified by a press conference hosted by the Ravens in which Janay apologized for her role in the attack, an apology that was promptly trumpeted by the Ravens on Twitter.

The Ravens’ tweet, reading, “Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident,” became a symbol of the tone deaf way the Ravens and the NFL handled the Rice case in particular and domestic violence generally. Now Janay Rice has come forward to say it was the Ravens who scripted the apology in the first place.

Janay Rice and ESPN’s Jemele Hill have collaborated on a first-person account of Janay’s perspective of everything that has transpired since the night Ray assaulted her. In that first-person account, Rice says that the Ravens didn’t make her say anything she didn’t believe, but the Ravens did suggest a script, and that when she was apologizing for her role, she was following the Ravens’ suggestion.

“When it was my turn to speak, I said I regretted my role in the incident,” Janay Rice says. “I know some people disagreed with me publicly apologizing. I’m not saying that what Ray did wasn’t wrong. He and I both know it was wrong. It’s been made clear to him that it was wrong. But at the same time, who am I to put my hands on somebody? I had already apologized to Ray, and I felt that I should take responsibility for what I did. Even though this followed the Ravens’ suggested script, I owned my words.”

Janay Rice also said the press conference was something the Ravens wanted, although she also was glad that people could get an image of her other than the only one they had, which was that of her being dragged out of an elevator by Ray.

“The Ravens just said it was something that they felt we should do,” Janay Rice says of the press conference.

That doesn’t speak well of the Ravens. If Janay Rice wanted to speak about this case, she should have been made to feel free to do so in whatever setting she wished. She should not have been pressured by the Ravens to give a press conference at their headquarters, in which they suggested the script.

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Tom Brady is probable for Green Bay, because he always was

Tom Brady AP

Sometimes it seems like the Patriots only bother monkeying around with the injury report for big games.

So naturally, with the Packers this weekend, something has to be wrong with Tom Brady.

The venerable quarterback is listed as probable for Sunday’s trip to Green Bay with an ankle injury, which means of course he’s playing.

The rest of the Patriots injury reports lists defensive lineman Chandler Jones as questionable, along with running back Shane Vereen, wide receiver Brandon LaFell and guard Dan Connolly.

It’s hard to gauge on Jones, who has missed a month with a hip injury, and was considered borderline for this game. So making him 50-50 on the report is about as much intrigue as we’ll actually have.

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Potential landing spots hard to find for Ray Rice in 2014

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Getty Images

Judge Barbara Jones has reinstated former Ravens running back Ray Rice from his indefinite suspension after finding that Rice did not mislead the NFL about striking Janay Palmer Rice and knocking her unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator earlier this year.

The ruling frees Rice to sign with any team to continue his playing career, but a return this year doesn’t look particularly promising. In addition to the sizable baggage Rice carries as a result of hitting his now-wife, Rice is coming off a season that saw him run for 3.1 yards per carry and he would be coming in cold to a new team with little time left in the regular season.

In looking at potential landing spots, we’re eliminating teams out of playoff contention since the benefits of adding Rice wouldn’t make much of a difference to them this season when compared to the negative attention such a move would likely create. Among teams with active playoff hopes, one team jumps immediately to mind but, as if to illustrate the difficulties Rice faces getting work this year, they are reportedly uninterested in Rice’s services.

Colts: The Colts lost Ahmad Bradshaw for the season, leaving them with the underwhelming combo of Trent Richardson and Dan Herron at tailback. Rice could give them some of what they lost in the passing game with Bradshaw gone and he knows Colts coach Chuck Pagano from Indianapolis, but, as mentioned, there have already been reports that the Colts are not interested in pursuing Rice.

Cardinals: Arizona currently ranks 31st in the league in rushing yards per game and they signed Michael Bush off the street this week, so they are looking for help alongside Andre Ellington in the backfield. Bush wasn’t any more productive than Rice last season, but he does look like a better fit as a more power-oriented back since Ellington has been fairly effective catching passes out of the backfield.

Falcons: The Falcons haven’t been much better on the ground than the Cardinals, but their issues on the offensive line make it hard to believe that Rice would be able to do much more than Steven Jackson, Devonta Freeman and Jacquizz Rodgers offer the team.

Lions: In the event that Reggie Bush’s ankle injury continues to keep him on the sidelines, the Lions could be in the market for backfield help. There’s no sign that’s the case at this point, however, and Joique Bell and Theo Riddick were effective on Thanksgiving.

Broncos: Continuing along the theme of teams dealing with injuries, the Broncos are waiting to get Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball back in the lineup. Their offense isn’t an easy one to pick up, though, and C.J. Anderson appears to have it down pat, which doesn’t leave much reason to go down the Rice road.

Chargers: The Chargers rank near the Cardinals and Falcons and were once victimized by a Rice catch-and-run on 4th-and-29, so they saw first-hand what he can do with the ball in his hands. They also just got Ryan Mathews back from injury and they have run for 270 yards in the last two weeks, leaving them much less likely to be in the market for backfield help.

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Rice had second video, and NFL never asked for it

Rice

It’s taken nearly three months, but finally a conclusive answer has been provided to one of the most basic questions in the Ray Rice case:  Could the NFL have gotten the elevator video from Rice himself?

Answer:  Yes.

In her 17-page ruling announcing the reversal of Rice’s indefinite suspension, former U.S. Judge Barbara S. Jones concludes that Rice had obtained the video from the prosecution as part of the discovery process in his criminal case, and that the NFL (which supposedly was doing everything in its power to get the video) didn’t ask Rice for a copy of the video.

From page four of the written decision, “Rice had received this video in discovery during his criminal case, but the NFL never asked Rice for the second video.”

That’s a point that was first raised in this space on August 4, more than a month before the second video was released.  At a time when everyone assumed that the NFL had seen the video of the strike that knocked Janay Palmer Rice out, Jay Glazer of FOX said on The Dan Patrick Show that the NFL hadn’t seen the video.  Alarmed by that disclosure, I determined the NFL hadn’t seen the video, but that it could have gotten the video easily.

The topic was revisited on September 8, after the video emerged, the Ravens cut Rice, and the NFL suspended him indefinitely.  But the league had never publicly addressed whether it asked Rice for the video.

Privately, some have pointed to a strong likelihood that Rice’s lawyer wouldn’t have allowed him to produce the tape.  Those concerns appear nowhere within Judge Jones’ ruling, and for good reason.  Rice, as the client, owns the contents of the lawyer’s file.  Rice, as the client, has the power to tell the lawyer what will and won’t be shared with, for example, Rice’s employer.

Regardless of why the NFL didn’t ask for the video, the truth is that:  (1) Rice had it; and (2) the NFL never said the magic words.

That simple failure by the NFL makes everything else regarding the case irrelevant.  Either the league office didn’t want to see the video or it failed to exercise any degree of reasonable diligence in attempting to get it.  Regardless of the explanation, it’s not the kind of outcome that the stakeholders in professional football should expect, or tolerate.

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Jordan Cameron practices again Friday, listed as questionable

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

The Browns could have tight end Jordan Cameron back in the lineup as they try for their eighth win of the season in Buffalo on Sunday.

Cameron practiced for the third straight day on Friday, leading the team to list him as questionable to play in his first game since suffering a concussion in Week Eight. Cameron has missed four games as a result, although the Browns have won three of those four contests.

Earlier this week, coach Mike Pettine said that Cameron had to string together a few practices without any concussion symptoms before he’d have a chance of playing this weekend. Now that he’s done that, you’d expect to see him on the field come Sunday unless there’s something holding him back from getting the final green light to emerge from the concussion protocol.

If Cameron does play, it will be the first time this season that the Browns will have him and Josh Gordon in the lineup at the same time. That should be a boost to both their offense and their chances of making the playoffs.

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Rice decision could make Mueller investigation moot

Mueller Getty Images

While much remains to be digested from the written ruling issued by former U.S. Judge Barbara S. Jones and the transcript from two days of testimony that the case has generated, the ultimate result of the Ray Rice appeal says plenty about the NFL’s handling of the Rice case.

Judge Jones likely has concluded that Rice had told the NFL everything the NFL needed to know when suspending him for only two games, and that the NFL didn’t need to see the video.  If that’s the case, the question of whether the NFL knew about the contents of the video doesn’t matter; the knowledge has been imputed to the league based on the reconstruction of the facts over which Judge Jones presided.

In turn, that potentially makes the ongoing investigation from former FBI director Robert Mueller moot.  Mueller has spent weeks exploring what the NFL knew and when the NFL knew it about the incident that ultimately was demonstrated by video evidence to entail a vicious blow to the head that rendered Janay Palmer Rice unconscious.  If Judge Jones has concluded that the league had everything it needed to know when suspending Rice the first time, Mueller’s investigation doesn’t matter.  Judge Jones — a truly independent party whose firm (unlike Mueller’s) has no other connection to the NFL — quite possibly has determined that the league necessarily knew what was in the video.

If that’s what she concluded, it no longer matters whether someone sent the video to the league office, as the Associated Press reported.  It no longer matters whether the NFL should have asked Rice or his lawyer for the video.  It no longer matters whether the NFL should have asked the casino at which the incident occurred for the video.  It no longer matters whether the NFL should have broken out the checkbook and purchased the video, the same way TMZ did.

None of it matters because the NFL necessarily knew that which the rest of the world first saw on the morning of September 8.

There’s one caveat here, which won’t be known until the ruling is fully examined.  It’s possible that Judge Jones found that Rice’s version of the events created ambiguities that the NFL could have resolved by getting the video, and that the NFL should have gotten the video.  While leading to the same result for the purposes of Rice’s suspension, that nuance potentially clears the NFL from a determination that it possessed the knowledge regarding what happened — and that it lacked the sensitivity, common sense, or human empathy to bother to consider what the incident actually looked like on video.

The answer surely resides in the document Judge Jones has written to support her decision.  It’s possible, if not likely, that the written decision proves that there was no need for Mueller or anyone else to investigate what the league knew and when the league knew it.  Judges Jones’ decision could mean that the NFL knew everything, well before TMZ provided all of us with a window into that elevator.

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Jerick McKinnon says he’s out this week

Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

The Vikings listed running back Jerick McKinnon as doubtful on their Friday injury report, but there’s no doubt in McKinnon’s mind about his status.

McKinnon said Friday that he isn’t going to play against the Panthers this weekend because of the back issues that have plagued him for several weeks.

“It’s going to be hard standing on the sidelines not being able to play in the game,” McKinnon said, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “I know that Matt [Asiata], Joe [Banyard] and all the other guys are going to do the job, do what’s best for the team and lead us to victory. It’s been lingering a little bit, but it’s nothing I can’t play through. It’s just a matter of taking precaution and doing what’s right.”

Asiata didn’t play last week because of a concussion, but is expected back this week. Banyard had five carries for 26 yards in support of McKinnon against the Bears while Ben Tate didn’t play a snap in his first game as a member of the Vikings. Whoever does get the ball should have some opportunities to make plays against a Panthers team that’s allowing 119 yards per game on the ground.

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