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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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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

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpty1ntmyodflmzqwmzbiy2viyte1ogrhzmfjnwi3ntez AP

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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