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NFL morning after: It’s the Texans and everyone else in the AFC

Baltimore Ravens v Houston Texans Getty Images

Is seven weeks into the season too early to declare home-field advantage wrapped up? Probably. But let’s be real about the state of the AFC right now: It’s the Texans and everyone else.

The Texans are so much better than the rest of the AFC that only a string of major injuries to key players (like Houston had last year) can prevent them from clinching home field for the playoffs, probably with a couple games left in the regular season. The road to the Super Bowl goes through Houston.

Entering Sunday, the Texans and Ravens were tied for the best record in the AFC at 5-1, and their meeting at Reliant Stadium looked like a possible AFC Championship preview. But on Sunday the Texans absolutely humiliated the Ravens, jumping out to a 29-3 halftime lead and coasting through the second half to win 43-13. If the Ravens are the second-best team in the AFC, then I don’t know if there’s ever been a bigger gap between the first and second-best teams in either conference in NFL history.

The Texans are such a complete team. They pass the ball well with Matt Schaub throwing to receivers Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter and tight end Owen Daniels. In Arian Foster they have one of the NFL’s best running backs. Defensive lineman J.J. Watt is my choice for Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL right now. Johnathan Joseph has been slowed by a groin injury this season, but when he’s at full speed he’s among the NFL’s best cornerbacks — and he looked like he’s getting closer to full speed when he picked off Joe Flacco and returned the interception 52 yards for a touchdown on Sunday.

All of that is half of the reason the Texans are so far ahead of the pack in the AFC. The other half is that every other team in the AFC is deeply flawed. Only the Texans, Ravens and Patriots have winning records, and it’s looking like a year when 8-8 may be enough to make the playoffs in the AFC. All those AFC teams hovering around .500 may look to some people like just the kind of parity everyone likes about the NFL, but it looks more like mediocrity to me.

The Texans’ loss to the Packers a week ago is a strong demonstration of how much better the NFC is than the AFC this season: If the Texans were in the other conference, they wouldn’t be the favorites to earn home-field advantage. But as the one and only really good team in a mediocre conference, the Texans have the clearest path to the Super Bowl of any team in the NFL.

Here are my other observations from the seventh Sunday of this NFL season:

Chris Johnson may be the most inconsistent player in NFL history. Johnson was absolutely sensational for the Titans in Sunday’s win over the Bills, carrying 18 times for 195 yards and two touchdowns, including one 83-yard run on which he looked like he could give Usain Bolt a competitive race. Johnson’s game-breaking ability is unmatched; previously in his NFL career Johnson has had touchdown runs of 91, 89 and 85 yards, and he’s the only player in NFL history with four career touchdown runs of 80 yards or longer. But for the Titans, it’s maddening that a player with the talent to run like that has so many absolutely terrible games. In the first six weeks of this season, Johnson had four different games in which he failed to gain even 25 yards. In those four games, Johnson’s total stat line is 48 carries for 69 yards and zero touchdowns. How can a player who’s good enough to gain 195 yards on 18 carries in one game be bad enough to total just 69 yards on 48 carries in four other games? It’s inexplicable.

Browns rookie defensive lineman Billy Wynn committed one of the dumbest penalties of the year. On a fourth down from the Colts’ own 22-yard line in the second quarter, the Indianapolis offense stayed on the field. Obviously, all they were going to do is try to draw the Browns’ defense offside: No NFL team ever goes for it on fourth down in that situation. Which obviously means that all the Browns had to do was not jump offside. And yet Wynn jumped offside, giving the Colts a free first down. Penalties don’t get much dumber than that.

Wynn’s penalty wasn’t even the Browns’ dumbest fourth-down decision. Browns coach Pat Shurmur made one of the bonehead calls of the year when he sent out his punter on fourth-and-1 from the Colts’ 41-yard line while trailing 17-13 with 6:38 left in the fourth quarter. That’s a situation where you have to go for it. You simply cannot give the ball away because you don’t trust your offense to gain one yard with the game on the line. The Browns, of course, ended up losing by that same 17-13 score. Shurmur is coaching for his job right now, and these are the decisions that get coaches fired.

We’re running out of superlatives for Robert Griffin III. Even in defeat, Griffin is doing amazing things as the Redskins’ quarterback. After Griffin completed 20 of 28 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns, plus 89 yards rushing, players on the Giants’ defense declared Griffin the best quarterback they’ve faced this season. Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora described Griffin as “flat-out unbelievable.” It’s amazing how good this guy is, at just 22 years old.

Last year we were running out of superlatives for Cam Newton. If you want to make the case that no one should get too excited about Griffin, all you have to do is point to Newton. Last year Newton was doing many of the same things Griffin was doing, making plays with his arm and his feet in an unbelievable rookie season for the Panthers. But this year Newton just doesn’t appear to be the same player. It’s not that Newton has been terrible, but in games like Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys, he just hasn’t been able to make plays when the Panthers need him. Becoming a great pro quarterback is a lot of work, and while Newton may achieve greatness eventually, he’s not there yet. Maybe a full year of film on Newton has better prepared NFL defenses to stop him, or maybe Newton let all the fame get to his head last year. But he’s not playing as well as he did in 2011.

The Jets aren’t going down without a fight. After they lost their best player, Darrelle Revis, to a season-ending knee injury and then lost their next game 34-0 to the 49ers, I thought the Jets would be one of the worst teams in the league the rest of the season. But I was wrong. The Jets are playing tough, competitive football. On Sunday in New England the Jets were (at least according to the Vegas lines) the biggest underdogs in the NFL. And yet they took the Patriots to overtime. Rex Ryan turns a lot of people off with all his bluster, but the guy is a damn good coach.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano had the biggest win of the day. Not because his team beat the Browns to improve to 3-3 and surpass last year’s win total, but because he was sent home after four weeks in the hospital while undergoing treatment for leukemia. For Pagano, that’s an important step to getting where he wants to be: Back to coaching his team.

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After four weeks away, Brandon Flowers returns to practice

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 06:  Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas #88 of the Denver Broncos carries to the three yard line on a 21 yard pass play to set up the Broncos's first quarter touchdown against cornerback Brandon Flowers #24 of the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 6, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) Getty Images

Chargers cornerback Brandon Flowers returned to practice Wednesday.

Flowers, who’s missed the last four games with a concussion, was listed by the team as a full practice participant.

His return would be a boost for a Chargers defense that’s been thin in the secondary since top cornerback Jason Verrett was placed on injured reserve earlier this month. Craig Mager, a second-year player, has been starting in Flowers’ absence.

Flowers, 30, is in his third season with the Chargers. He played his first six seasons with the Chiefs, who drafted him in the second round in 2008.

He’s been a starter when healthy for his entire career, and he has 20 career interceptions.

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DeMarcus Ware returns to practice

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:  DeMarcus Ware #94 of the Denver Broncos stands on the field during pregame warmups prior to Super Bowl 50 against the Carolina Panthers at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

DeMarcus Ware got a double dose of good news on Wednesday. First, they caught the Wet Bandits. Second, he returned to practice after suffering a Week Two forearm fracture.

Ware practiced on a limited basis in advance of Sunday’s game against the Chargers. Also limited were receiver Demaryius Thomas (hip) and fullback Andy Janovich (hand).

Absent from practice were running back C.J. Anderson, who has a bone bruise in his knee that reportedly will keep him out for several weeks at a minimum, linebacker Brandon Marshall (hamstring), center Matt Paradis (hip), defensive tackle Sylvester Williams (ankle), and cornerback Aqib Talib (low back).

Fully participating despite injuries were linebacker Shaquil Barrett (elbow), quarterback Trevor Siemian (left shoulder), and defensive end Billy Winn (low back).

The Broncos lost to the Chargers 13 days ago in prime time. Both teams won in Week Seven.

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Moncrief back at practice, aiming to return Sunday

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 27:  Donte Moncrief #10 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans in the second half at Nissan Stadium on September 27, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) Getty Images

Colts wide receiver Donte Moncrief was back at practice on a limited basis Wednesday.

Moncrief has been out since Week Two due to a shoulder injury. He’s proven to be both a big target and a reliable one for Andrew Luck, and his return would boost a Colts’ receiving corps that’s been hit hard by injuries.

Colts Coach Chuck Pagano said Moncrief would wear a no-contact jersey in his return to practice and would be monitored through the week. Moncrief has been recovering from a fractured scapula.

Pagano said he’s hopeful that Moncrief will play this week, and Moncrief told reporters he’ll “be surprised if [he] doesn’t play Sunday.”

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Lions’ Glover Quin is rich, but doesn’t spend like it

Glover Quin AP

NFL players who make millions of dollars only to go broke shortly after retiring are commonplace. They wouldn’t be if more players lived like Lions safety Glover Quin.

Quin is in the fourth year of a five-year, $23.5 million contract, but he’s still driving the same car he bought before he signed that contract, and he and his family live on just 30 percent of his take-home pay, with the other 70 percent going toward investments.

“You see so many guys around you buying cars, buying jewelry, doing this, spending money, talking about the money that they spend,” Quin told ESPN. “And you’re sitting there like, ‘Man, I’m living off this much money every month, and this cat spending this much money every day.'”

Quin invests 50 to 60 percent of his take-home pay in blue-chip stocks, and 10 to 20 percent in higher-risk private equity. He estimates that his investments have earned about as much for him as he’s earned from his NFL contracts.

“I’ve played for eight years and made this much money, I was in a couple investments for five years and kind of made the same amount of money,” Quin said. “It’s kind of like having a double NFL career.”

Quin said that early in his career, some of his teammates accused him of being cheap. By living comfortably if not lavishly, Quin is setting himself up to be rich for the rest of his life, long after some of those teammates have gone bankrupt.

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Denver police apprehend suspects in DeMarcus Ware burglary

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 08:  Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware #94 of the Denver Broncos reacts in the second half while taking on the Carolina Panthers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 8, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) Getty Images

Broncos linebacker DeMarcus Ware returned home from the team’s Monday night game to find that his home had been burglarized, something he announced on social media along with a mention of the cameras he has installed in his house.

Since the burglars opted not to use masks while helping themselves to Ware’s belongings, the Denver Police Department was able to use clear pictures of their faces and the promise of a reward to solicit help from the public in identifying the suspects. It didn’t take long for their efforts to bear fruit.

The Denver P.D. announced on Wednesday that they have apprehended the suspects and that the property stolen from Ware has been recovered.

Ware said earlier on Wednesday, via Cameron Wolfe of the Denver Post, that his Super Bowl ring was among the items taken and said he’d already started an insurance claim to deal with its loss. Now that he has it back, Ware need only worry about getting back on the field after breaking his forearm so he can help the team’s effort to hold another ring ceremony next year.

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Report: C.J. Anderson expected to miss time with knee injury

SAN DIEGO, CA - OCTOBER 13:   C.J. Anderson #22 of the Denver Broncos runs the ball during the first half of a game against the San Diego Chargers  at Qualcomm Stadium on October 13, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) Getty Images

Broncos running back C.J. Anderson is going for a second opinion on a knee injury he suffered in Monday night’s game against the Texans, which is the first sign that there’s reason for concern about his availability in the near future.

More signs came on Wednesday afternoon with multiple reports that Anderson will miss multiple weeks as a result of the injury, which is being described as a bone bruise. Mike Garafolo of NFL Media reports that the second opinion is expected to give Anderson and the team a better sense of just how long he’ll be out.

Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said, via Mike Klis of KUSA, that the team expects to have that sense on Thursday. For now, though, it looks like it is safe to assume that rookie Devontae Booker is going to be the lead back when the Chargers come to Denver on Sunday.

Booker saw a big jump in playing time against Houston and responded with 83 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.

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Todd Bowles says it wasn’t a tumultuous week

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 17:  Head coach Todd Bowles of the New York Jets watches from the sidelines during the fourth quarter of the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 17, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Jets 28-3.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jets, by all appearances, have had a tumultuous week. Their head coach says it wasn’t. Which makes us wonder how crazy it would have to be before he’d use that label.

“It is actually not tumultuous at all,” Bowles said of a game that included a torn ACL to quarterback Geno Smith and a postgame no-one-believes-in-me rant from starter-turned-backup-turned-starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. “Ryan said what he said. We had a conversation, we are all on the same page and we have moved on.”

Bowles believes that Fitzpatrick’s performance against the Ravens, which helped the Jets snap a four-game losing streak, can result in more strong play.

“I do believe it,” Bowles said. “Everybody needs motivation every now and then, and whatever a player needs to be motivated to help him play, I think he should use that. Ryan came in and gave us a boost, and he finished the game for us and got us a win. We had lost four in a row before that. Going forward, it will be his team.”

Like the Bears with Jay Cutler, the Jets have no choice. They’re still alive, technically, for a playoff run. Until they’re more clearly cooked, there’s no reason to test out Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg.

Regardless, the coach who never seems to be flustered by anything isn’t flustered by what happened on Sunday. If he wasn’t flustered by that, he’ll possibly never be flustered by anything.

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Texans sign Jeff Adams, place Derek Newton on injured reserve

HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 15:  Alfred Blue #28 of the Houston Texans rushes up the middle as he gets a block from Jeff Adams #70 on Shayne Skov #48 of the San Francisco 49ers in the first half at Reliant Arena at Reliant Park on August 15, 2015 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

Texans tackle Derek Newton is looking at a long rehab process before he can walk again after tearing the patellar tendons in both knees during Monday night’s loss to the Broncos, which leaves a return to football as something to put on the back burner for a long while.

As a result, the Texans have moved Newton to injured reserve. The team announced that they have signed tackle Jeff Adams to fill his spot on the roster.

Adams is a familiar face around the Texans. He signed with the team in 2014 and played in two games before starting the first two games of the 2015 season. His run in the lineup came to an end when he suffered a torn patellar tendon of his own and he failed to make the team this summer.

Chris Clark is expected to start in Newton’s place, which will likely leave Adams as the swing tackle moving forward.

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Hunter Henry practices two days after reporting concussion-like symptoms

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 23:  Hunter Henry #86 of the San Diego Chargers fails to pull in this touchdown reception inbounds against Keanu Neal #22 of the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on October 23, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

Chargers rookie tight end Hunter Henry practiced on Wednesday, two days after Chargers Coach Mike McCoy said Henry was in the NFL’s concussion protocol.

McCoy said Henry reported concussion-like symptoms after the Chargers won in Atlanta last Sunday. Henry being at practice Wednesday is a positive sign for his status for Sunday’s game at Denver, and McCoy said he’s hopeful that Henry will be healthy and cleared to play.

Henry has 20 catches on the season, three for touchdowns, and had his biggest game of the season with eight catches for 83 yards and a touchdown when the Chargers beat the Broncos two weeks ago.

Chargers wide receivers Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin did not practice. McCoy said he wanted Williams and Benjamin to “get some extra rest.”

Benjamin missed some practice time last week with a knee injury but played in last week’s game.

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No changes to pregame procedures for Patriots-Bills rematch

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 02:  The officials discuss a penalty in the fourth quarter diuring a football game between the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on October 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

The last time the Bills and Patriots got together, a pregame scuffle resulted in thousands in fines but no penalties. In turn, no players received the first of two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls under the new automatic ejection formula.

No penalty flags were thrown because the incident occurred without the officials on the field. The officials weren’t on the field because they don’t arrive until 50 minutes before kickoff.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, no changes will be made to the current pregame procedures in advance of the rematch. Which means that the officials won’t enter the field until 50 minutes before kickoff. Which means that, with more than 50 minutes before kickoff, another scuffle could happen.

While extra attention will be paid to the pregame warmups, if game officials aren’t present to impose pregame penalties, the threat of an eventual ejection won’t apply. And with players like Bills cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman already saying he’ll gladly take another fine, where’s the deterrent?

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Cam Newton: Running is my edge, I’m not going to give it up

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 16:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after his team scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 16, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

When Panthers quarterback Cam Newton met the media after the team’s Week Six loss to the Saints, he cut the session off after 90 seconds.

He was more expansive in his Wednesday press conference. Newton talked about the concussion he suffered against the Falcons in Week Four, saying he knew he was “messed up” by the hit he took while running the ball for a two-point conversion and that he learned he can’t take his guard down at any point while he’s on the field.

What he won’t do is take running out of his game. Newton only ran once against the Saints, a two-yard touchdown run, but said that his ability to run between the tackles is “forever my edge” in the NFL.

“I look at the game different. That makes defenses prepare for extra things,” Newton said. “So if you take that away, the defense is like ‘Yes, we don’t have to prepare for a quarterback.’ I’m trying to find any and every way to create edges for us, whether that’s me running around, that’s me blocking. I’m just trying to win football games.”

The Panthers haven’t had much luck winning football games this season and losing Newton again won’t do them any favors on that front over the final 10 games. Having Newton play a style that’s uncomfortable to him without taking full advantage of his talent won’t do them any favors either, though, so it seems the Cardinals should be ready to see Newton carrying the ball this Sunday.

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Seahawks cut running back C.J. Spiller

SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 16:  Running back C.J. Spiller #28 of the Seattle Seahawks rushes against Eric Weems #14 of the Atlanta Falcons at CenturyLink Field on October 16, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Seahawks are confident their running game is going to improve soon.

And they must think they don’t need running back C.J. Spiller to achieve that goal.

According to Field Yates of ESPN, the Seahawks released the veteran running back.

Spiller played in two games for the Seahawks, but was a healthy scratch for Sunday’s tie with the Cardinals. The team elected to use C.J. Prosise as their third-down back behind Christine Michael.

And with Thomas Rawls getting closer to health, the Seahawks apparently decided they didn’t need him to provide a boost for one of the league’s worst rushing games.

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Artis Hicks: Vikings had a bounty program like the Saints’

MINNEAPOLIS - DECEMBER 31: Artis Hicks #79 of the Minnesota Vikings looks on during the game against the St. Louis Rams on December 31, 2006 at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Rams defeated the Vikings 41-21. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL cracked down severely on the Saints and many of their players and coaches after an investigation revealed a bounty program with cash payouts to players who injured opponents. The game most frequently cited as an example of the Saints attempting to injure an opponent was the NFC Championship Game victory over the Vikings after the 2009 season.

Now a player who was on that Vikings team is saying Minnesota ran a similar bounty program.

Artis Hicks, an offensive lineman on the 2009 Vikings, told Jeff Pearlman, the author of a new Brett Favre biography, that the Vikings were doing the same thing that got the Saints busted.

“It was part of the culture,” Hicks said, in a book excerpt published by Deadspin. “I had coaches start a pot and all the veterans put in an extra $100, $200, and if you hurt someone special, you get the money. There was a bottom line, and I think we all bought in: you’re there to win, and if taking out the other team’s best player helps you win, hey, it’s nothing personal. Just business.”

Brad Childress was the head coach of the Vikings for Hicks’ entire four-year stint with the team. Childress informed the NFL after that NFC Championship Game that he had heard that the Saints had a bounty on Favre, and Childress testified in former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s appeals hearing on Bountygate. He has stayed quiet about the matter publicly, perhaps not wanting to say anything that could see him accused of hypocrisy, given Hicks’ accusation.

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Jaguars owner meets with players and coaches

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 28:  Shahid Khan, the billionaire owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, waits on the field before their game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on December 28, 2014 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) Getty Images

Jaguars owner Shad Khan wants to know what’s going on.

According to the Associated Press, Khad met with players and coaches Monday, asking “why are we not winning and what can we do to fix it?

Khan has generally been upbeat and low-profile, but his team is now 14-40 under coach Gus Bradley, and Sunday’s embarrassing home loss to the Raiders included two ejections, one player penalized for a racial slur and way too many flags in general.

Khan reportedly had an open forum, where players and coaches were encouraged to talk about the problems the franchise had, and why they didn’t make the leap so many expected (including someone who picked them to go to the playoffs).

What makes this meeting a concern for everyone with a job there is it’s the second time in a month he spoke to the team. He talked to them prior to their London game, and they responded with a win that time.

If they don’t Thursday night against the Titans, it’s worth wondering how many of the participants in Monday’s meeting (other than Khan) will be around for the next one.

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Corey Coleman returns to practice, probably not yet ready for games

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 18: Corey Coleman #19 of the Cleveland Browns breaks a tackle on his way to an 11-yard touchdown reception against Jimmy Smith #22 of the Baltimore Ravens in the first quarter at Cleveland Browns Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Browns rookie wide receiver Corey Coleman was a limited participant in practice Wednesday, and that’s a good sign as Coleman tries to return from a broken hand.

Coleman previously hadn’t been cleared to practice since suffering the injury on what Browns coach Hue Jackson described as a freak play in practice last month. The injury occurred a few days after Coleman had 104 yards receiving and two touchdowns in Week Two vs. the Ravens.

Jackson told reporters Wednesday that Coleman is “getting closer” to a return but said Coleman probably won’t play this week vs. the Jets.

The injury did not require surgery. It’s likely that Coleman, the Browns’ first-round pick last spring, will wear some sort of protective brace on his hand and that he’ll have to prove he can play with the wrap or brace and still catch the ball before he’s allowed to play in games.

The Browns also listed wide receiver Terrelle Pryor as limited with a hamstring injury. He missed two practices last week and though he played last Sunday he clearly wasn’t 100 percent.

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