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PFT’s Week 14 picks

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With four weeks to go, the lead is back to three.

And we disagree on three games.

In other words, MDS a/k/a the master of Raiders exacta, could catch me by 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Last week, I went 11-5.  MDS was 10-6.  For the season, I’m now at 123-68-1, a 64.0 percent accuracy rate.  MDS is 120-71-1, which equates to 62.5 percent.

Broncos at Raiders

MDS’s take: My amazing run of accuracy in predicting Raiders scores has put a lot of pressure on me to get this one right. So here’s what it boils down to: The Broncos are good, the Raiders are not, and the score won’t be close.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 31, Raiders 13.

Florio’s takePeyton Manning has never lost in Oakland.  Then again, he has played there only twice.  Make it three on Thursday night.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 27, Raiders 13.

Rams at Bills

MDS’s take: The Bills’ defense has turned things around recently, with Mario Williams getting five sacks in the last three games. I think Williams will bring the pressure to Sam Bradford, and the Bills will win.

MDS’s pick: Bills 17, Rams 14.

Florio’s take:  The up-and-down Rams play very well inside the division and not so well outside of it.  The Bills sometimes play well at home, and sometimes they don’t.  The difference here is that the Rams have an arguably realistic shot at the postseason, and the Bills don’t.

Florio’s pick:  Rams 17, Bills 13.

Falcons at Panthers

MDS’s take: The Falcons are playing for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and the Panthers are playing for the first overall pick in the draft. Advantage Atlanta.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 21, Panthers 13.

Florio’s take:  Earlier this year, the Panthers nearly toppled the Falcons in Atlanta.  The rematch comes in Charlotte, with the Falcons chasing the top seed and the Panthers pursuing respect.  As they move closer to proving that they’re ready to hang with the big boys, the Falcons prove that their near-miss against Carolina was a fluke.

Florio’s pick:   Falcons 31, Panthers 20.

Cowboys at Bengals

MDS’s take: This is a close, competitive game, and I have a funny feeling the Bengals’ superior special teams could turn out to make the difference. The Bengals will bolster their own playoff hopes and deal a lethal blow to the Cowboys’ hopes.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 24, Cowboys 20.

Florio’s take:  Yes, the Cowboys won last week.  But they beat the Philly “B” team, barely.  The Bengals are moving in the right direction, and it’ll stay that way at least until they have to play the Steelers or Ravens again.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 24, Cowboys 20.

Chiefs at Browns

MDS’s take: The weekend’s worst game will be in Cleveland, where the Browns will win an ugly one.

MDS’s pick: Browns 15, Chiefs 12.

Florio’s take:  A week after the biggest win of his career, Brady Quinn returns to the place where his career started.  Though the Browns probably will win this one, I can’t pick against Quinn and the Chiefs.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 23, Browns 20.

Titans at Colts

MDS’s take: I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Colts stumble on their march to the playoffs here — this team could be ripe for an upset after gutting out a tough, physical, hard-fought game in Detroit last week. I also have major doubts about the ability of the Colts’ defense to keep them in big games down the stretch. The Titans, however, don’t have much offensive firepower, and so I’ll take the Colts in a close one.

MDS’s pick: Colts 20, Titans 17.

Florio’s takeAndrew Luck and the Colts move closer to one of the most unlikely playoff berths in recent history.  Meanwhile, Titans owner Bud Adams moved toward a series of pink slips and middle fingers fired at his employees.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 34, Titans 20.

Jets at Jaguars

MDS’s take: Rex Ryan gave Mark Sanchez what should be an easy win in Jacksonville. I’m not sold on Sanchez, but I am sold on the Jets’ ability to shut down the Jaguars’ offense.

MDS’s pick: Jets 20, Jaguars 10.

Florio’s take:  Whether it’s Mark Sanchez, Greg McElroy, Tim Tebow, Vinny Testaverde, or Joe Namath at quarterback, the Jets have the defense to shut down the Jacksonville offense.

Florio’s pick:  Jets 10, Jaguars 6.

Bears at Vikings

MDS’s take: After an amazing start to the season, Chicago’s defense has declined in recent weeks. Playing against the struggling Christian Ponder is just the thing to cure what ails the Bears.

MDS’s pick: Bears 17, Vikings 7.

Florio’s take:  It’s the last, best chance for the Vikings to remain in the playoff race.  And it’s the last, best chance for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave to show that he realizes that, with Adrian Peterson in the backfield, there’s never a reason to pass the ball.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 24, Bears 16.

Chargers at Steelers

MDS’s take: The Steelers showed what kind of team they are in Sunday’s win over the Ravens, while the Chargers showed what kind of team they are in Sunday’s loss to the Bengals: The talent gap between these two teams isn’t big, but the Steelers play their best in crunch time, and the Chargers play their worst in crunch time.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 23, Chargers 20.

Florio’s take:  The Chargers haven’t won in Pittsburgh since somehow toppling the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium for the 1994 AFC title.  The 0-6 streak will continue on Sunday.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 24, Chargers 13.

Eagles at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: Greg Schiano’s guys are playing hard every week, win or lose, while Andy Reid’s guys have quit on the season. This is an easy one.

MDS’s pick: Buccaneers 35, Eagles 10.

Florio’s take:  The Phillies have won more recently than the Eagles.  That fact should hold for another week, or longer.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 27, Eagles 17.

Ravens at Redskins

MDS’s take: The Ravens’ run defense is terrible, and the Redskins’ run offense is excellent. Washington will rush for 200 yards and win a tough, physical game.

MDS’s pick: Redskins 13, Ravens 10.

Florio’s take:  The Redskins currently look more like the potential Super Bowl team, beating every other team in the NFC East in a three-game stretch.  Though it remains to be seen whether God really is on the Redskins’ side, He’s definitely not on the Ravens’ this year.

Florio’s pick:  Redskins 23, Ravens 21.

Dolphins at 49ers

MDS’s take: Colin Kaepernick may have taken a step backward last week against the Rams, but he’ll show against the Dolphins that Jim Harbaugh made the right decision. And even if Kaepernick has a bad game, it’s not like the Dolphins are putting many points on the board against San Francisco’s defense.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 28, Dolphins 6.

Florio’s take:  This game has considerably less hype than their Super Bowl XIX rendezvous.  But the outcome will be similar.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 38, Dolphins 16.

Saints at Giants

MDS’s take: The Saints are out of the playoff race, but they’re still a dangerous team, and I’m tempted to pick them against the Giants, coming off a tough loss on a short week. But the Giants know their backs are against the wall, and that’s when this team usually plays its best football.

MDS’s pick: Giants 28, Saints 27.

Florio’s take:  New York’s margin for error has, for now, shrunk to zero.  Which matches the Saints’ chances of getting to the postseason.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 28, Saints 17.

Cardinals at Seahawks

MDS’s take: With the Cardinals’ horrendous offense playing in a tough environment in Seattle, this game could get ugly. Looks to me like the biggest mismatch of the week in the NFL.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 35, Cardinals 3.

Florio’s take:  The Seahawks don’t lose at home.  The Cardinals don’t win anywhere.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 20, Cardinals 10.

Lions at Packers

MDS’s take: The Lions have a knack for playing well enough against good teams to keep it close, and then losing. That’s what they’ll do in Green Bay, where Calvin Johnson will have another big-time performance but Aaron Rodgers will pick apart Detroit’s secondary.

MDS’s pick: Packers 31, Lions 27.

Florio’s take:  The Packers need to keep winning.  For the Lions, it’s too late.  At this point, they’re playing only for Calvin Johnson to break Jerry Rice’s record.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 31, Lions 20.

Texans at Patriots

MDS’s take: Now this is a great Monday Night Football game. If the Texans win, the race for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs is pretty much over. But I think the Patriots are a better football team right now, and they’re going to take this one and make a big statement that they’re the favorites to get to the Super Bowl out of the AFC, even if they have to win a rematch in Houston in January to get there.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 28, Texans 14.

Florio’s take:  The Pats make their move toward the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff field.  It’s a great game on paper, but it’s got the potential to be a snooze-fest.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 34, Texans 24.

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Hall of Fame adds contributors category

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The Pro Football Hall of Fame has decided to create a separate category for contributors to the game of football, who will now be nominated using a separate process from the way players and coaches are chosen for enshrinement in Canton.

In the past, contributors were elected in the same way that players and coaches were. But some voters and fans didn’t think that made much sense: After all, when the Hall of Fame Selection Committee is having its annual meeting on the day before the Super Bowl, how are they supposed to make a judgment between a player and a person like NFL Films founder Ed Sabol, a Hall of Famer whose contributions to the game aren’t easily enumerated through stats and Pro Bowl appearances.

Now contributors will be voted upon separately, using a process similar to the process for nominating senior candidates — a “contributors committee” will nominate a finalist, and although that finalist will be voted upon by the regular Hall of Fame Selection Committee, that vote will be separate from the vote on players and coaches. So a contributor (who could be an owner, commissioner or anyone else who has contributed to the sport off the field) will not be competing with a player for a spot in the Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame believes there’s currently a backlog contributor candidates, so in 2015, 2017 and 2019 it will allow up to two contributors to be enshrined. In other years only one contributor can be enshrined per year.

Basically, this is good news for the Hall of Fame hopes of contributors who have been voted down recently. That includes former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., former Browns and Ravens owner Art Modell and former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Don’t be surprised if two of those three are putting on gold blazers in Canton a year from now.

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Steelers sign RB Jawan Jamison

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The Steelers have made a change to their RB corps, signing Jawan Jamison and waving Alvester Alexander, the club announced Friday.

A 2013 seventh-round pick of Washington, the 23-year-old Jamison spent most of last season on the Redskins’ practice squad, then was promoted to the roster for the final three games. Washington waived Jamison in March.

A Rutgers product, Jamison (5-7, 203) rushed for 1,075 yards and four TDs in 2012 for the Scarlet Knights. He’ll compete to be the Steelers’ fourth back. Le’Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer will take three of the depth chart spots at tailback for Pittsburgh.

The 23-year-old Alexander is a first-year pro from Wyoming. He spent last season on the Steelers’ practice squad.

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Jim Harbaugh confident in Marcus Lattimore

Marcus Lattimore AP

Although 49ers running back Marcus Lattimore is still unable to practice, 21 months after a horrific injury at South Carolina, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh says he’s confident Lattimore will contribute to the team.

Marcus is going to be a part of this team, in some form or fashion,” Harbaugh said, via CSNBayArea.com. “I know what he’s got inside of him and I know what he’s capable of doing on the football field. We all do.”

Unfortunately, there’s still no word on when Lattimore will be part of the 49ers, in any role other than an observer at practice.

“We’ll continue to do what’s best for him and ultimately that’ll be what’s best for the program,” Harbaugh said.

Lattimore has worked very hard to rehabilitate from an injury so severe that doctors feared at first he may never walk without assistance again, let alone play football again. Here’s hoping that Harbaugh’s confidence is well placed, and that Lattimore eventually gets on the field with the 49ers.

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Cowboys add a defensive end

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The Cowboys came into camp with deficiencies on the defensive line and things have only gotten worse since they arrived in Oxnard.

Second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence broke his foot, defensive tackle Terrell McClain has a sprained ankle and defensive end Ben Bass is dealing with a hamstring injury. On top of that, Anthony Spencer and Amobi Okoye are on procedural lists that bar them from practicing.

If nothing else, the Cowboys need some healthy bodies to get through practice and they added one on Friday. Agent Brett Tessler announced that his client Ken Boatright has signed a two-year deal with the team.

Boatright, a defensive end, spent a portion of camp with the Seahawks after signing as an undrafted free agent last year and some more time on Seattle’s offseason roster this year before being cut loose. He’s never played in a regular season game.

Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com reports that the team could also sign defensive end Adewale Ojomo, who was released by the Titans following a solicitation arrest. Boatright, Ojomo and Cory Henry all worked out for the Cowboys on Friday.

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Jerry Rice Jr. suffers torn labrum

Jerry Rice Jr. AP

Redskins wide receiver Jerry Rice Jr. will need shoulder surgery after sustaining a torn labrum, head coach Jay Gruden said Friday, according to the club’s Twitter feed.

According to Tarik El-Bashir of CSNWashington.com, Gruden seemed to indicate the club hoped Rice would end up on injured reserve, though no call yet has been made on how Washington will proceed.

If Rice Jr. has a season-ending injury, Washington has several options. The club can directly place him on injured reserve, or he could revert to injured reserve if he club waives him and he goes unclaimed. The team could also elect to waive him off the roster with a financial settlement.

The son of the Hall of Fame wide receiver, Jerry Rice Jr. signed with Washington in June as a undrafted free agent. He also had tryouts with San Francisco and Baltimore. Rice Jr. played college football at UCLA and UNLV.

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Brandon Lloyd joins Michael Crabtree on sideline

Brandon Lloyd AP

When it rains at wide receiver for the 49ers, it pours.

Michael Crabtree will miss the next week or two of practice with an injury that the 49ers have not disclosed, although Josina Anderson of ESPN reports that it is a sore hamstring that the team wants to rest so Crabtree doesn’t do further damage that keeps him out of the lineup for an extended period.

Crabtree will have some company in the trainer’s room. Coach Jim Harbaugh said that Brandon Lloyd will also be out for a week or two, although, as with Crabtree, the coach didn’t specify what kind of injury Lloyd suffered in practice this week.

Lloyd didn’t play at all last season, so he could probably use all the work the 49ers threw his way to earn a roster spot with the team or catch the eye of another club looking for help at receiver before the start of the season. Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson, Jonathan Baldwin, Bruce Ellington, Quinton Patton and Kassim Osgood round out the receiver group in San Francisco.

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Packers fear Jared Abbrederis tore his ACL

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It looks like Packers wide receiver Jared Abbrederis is going to spend his rookie season on injured reserve.

Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the Packers believe Abbrederis tore his ACL during practice on Thursday. Abbrederis was headed for more tests on Friday and coach Mike McCarthy wouldn’t confirm anything about the severity of the injury when he met the media.

“I haven’t had time to sit down with the medical staff,” McCarthy said. “Right now, he has a knee. He completed practice yesterday.”

Abbrederis was a fifth-round pick after catching 202 passes during his Wisconsin career and was competing for punt return duties in addition to an offensive role. Now it looks like he’ll have to wait and try his luck again next year.

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Cary Williams doesn’t want to practice with “Cheater” Patriots

Cary Williams AP

Eagles cornerback Cary Williams got himself thrown out of a joint practice with the Patriots last year for fighting.

He didn’t wait until the teams got together later this month to throw his next haymaker.

They are cheaters,” Williams said of the Patriots, via Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com. “They are.”

That was an obvious reference to the Spygate scandal, which saw the Patriots fined $250,000 they lost a 2008 first-round pick for illegally videotaping opponents’ signals. Coach Bill Belichick was also fined an additional $500,000.

But it wasn’t a drive-by for Williams, who kept piling on the team he grew to hate when he was with the Ravens. He said he didn’t like practicing against anyone, but especially New England.

“I’m trying not to go into details about it or disrespect that organization because I give that organization nothing but, . . .you still got to go out there and play the game,” Williams said. “All the credit. I give them all the credit in the world. But one fact still remains, they haven’t won a Super Bowl since they got caught.

“You got caught. I know you’re gonna be looking at the film when we go out there. That’s just that. I don’t want to show them my card. That’s just me, not them. Not them. Every team is gonna look at it anyway. We’re gonna look at what they do too.”

Williams has just guaranteed those practices will be watched a little more closely by everyone.

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Talib not worried about emphasis on fouls against receivers

Talib AP

The last time the NFL made defensive holding and illegal contact with receivers a point of emphasis in 2004, the number of flags thrown for both fouls increased from 79 to 191.

Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib doesn’t believe this year’s emphasis on those fouls will result in a similar uptick.

“They always talk about it but once it’s September and the real games start, it will probably be regular,” Talib told reporters on Friday.  “It’ll probably go through preseason and die out.  It doesn’t matter, it is what it is.  We’re just going to come out here and play football.”

It probably won’t die out, especially if teams like the Seahawks commit those fouls under the impression that the officials won’t throw a stream of flags for fear of bogging down the game.  The officials are under orders to throw the flags, and they apparently will.

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Jim Haslett not thrilled by referee’s suggestion that defense needs to be coached differently

Jim Haslett AP

Veteran referee Ed Hochuli said this week that there will be a closer emphasis on defensive holding and illegal contact penalties this season, something that he predicted would lead to a lot of flags in the early part of the season.

Officials are visiting camps around the league to provide some instruction about how the rules will be applied. Referee Terry McAuley has been at Redskins camp this week and told a reporter that coaches are going to have to change the way they teach their players to play in pass coverage if they want to avoid flags, which he threw several of during the team’s practices. That suggestion didn’t sit well with Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.

“You know what I would tell the official? I would tell him that he needs to worry about officiating and we’ll coach the team,” Haslett said, via CSNWashington.com. “He needs to worry about calling interference because he called about four or five yesterday where there was nothing. So tell him to worry about his job, we’ll worry about our job.”

While one can certainly understand Haslett’s distaste for someone telling him how to do his job, especially when the rules regarding holding and illegal contact are already on the books. We also imagine this won’t be the last complaint from a defensive coach about the officials throwing flags for what might be borderline calls so that they are in line with the league’s edict on emphasizing those calls.

Given the recent trends in football, those complaints will likely fall on deaf ears while passing offenses continue to put up bigger and bigger numbers.

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Kelvin Benjamin returning to practice tomorrow

Kelvin Benjamin AP

The Panthers dodged a bullet this week when rookie wideout Kelvin Benjamin’s MRI turned up no structural damage to his knee.

They’ll get back to having a full arsenal soon.

According to Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer, Benjamin is scheduled to return to practice tomorrow.

The Panthers don’t have much to discuss at the position other than their first-round pick, as they filled out the roster with veterans and young projects.

Benjamin has also developed a quick friendship with quarterback Cam Newton. Considering there was always a little frost between Newton and Steve Smith, that’s important for the Panthers moving forward.

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Jim Harbaugh says it’s “refreshing” to table contract talk

Jim Harbaugh AP

The 49ers have tabled their contracts talks with coach Jim Harbaugh, and the owner has said they’re not apparently far apart on money.

But as to the cessation of talks, Harbaugh turned it into a positive, saying he didn’t want a new contract with two years left on his contract.

Isn’t it refreshing?” Harbaugh said, via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com. “It has to be refreshing for you, refreshing for everybody in the building, refreshing for our fan base that the concentration will be on the 2014 season and our goals as a football team and achieving those goals. That’s the 49er way that I subscribe to.

“As I stated on the record these past months, this past week, all focus is on the 2014 season and achieving our goals. Now, the organization and I are in lockstep and all energy, all focus is on achieving those goals.”

Well, except for holdout guard Alex Boone, and tight end Vernon Davis, who threatened a holdout before showing up.

Of course, Joe Staley had four years left on his contract when he got a contract extension, so apparently there are some loopholes in “the 49er way.”

“That’s another thing that I’m on the record for,” Harbaugh said “And expressed that last summer when I was presented with a new contract, just my feeling, my principle, just a value, as the leader of the team, if I’m running in for a contract extension every couple years, it has a tendency to send everybody else running for the water cooler.”

Until his status is clarified, however, people are going to continue to sidle up to the cooler for a refreshing drink of “When do I get mine?”

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San Antonio official believes Raiders have given city “a serious look”

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After meeting with Raiders owner Mark Davis last month, the president and CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce believes Davis will give the city some real consideration if the team decides to move.

In an interview Friday with SiriusXM NFL Radio, Chamber executive Richard Perez told hosts Alex Marvez and Ross Tucker that Davis “has indeed given us a serious look, and we’re going to see where this takes us.”

Perez also shed some light on Davis’ message to city officials.

“I will you tell that I felt very, very comfortable and confident that his word was true,” Perez said. “And he said, ‘Look, you know, I’m not telling you that I’m coming today, but I will tell you that I’m looking, and you all are definitely someone that we’re looking very closely at.’”

Referring to the city’s previous failed attempts to appeal to professional teams, Perez said: “The carrot’s been dangled in front of us before. We’ve jumped, and we haven’t been successful. But if you don’t take a chance, you never will succeed.”

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Michael Crabtree could miss two weeks with undisclosed injury

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49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree missed Thursday’s practice and it looks like he will miss several more before he’s well enough to return to the field.

Coach Jim Harbaugh didn’t share what forced Crabtree out of practice, saying only that he is “working through something,” and that he could miss a week or two of training camp while healing up.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com reports Harbaugh did say that the injury Crabtree is working through wasn’t to his foot or Achilles. Crabtree tore his Achilles before last season and missed 11 games before returning for the end of the regular season and the playoffs. He also dealt with foot injuries before his rookie season and a couple of years into his professional career.

Avoiding a recurrence of a past injury would obviously be a good thing for Crabtree, although the lack of specifics make it hard to know how much this absence might impact Crabtree’s return. His work in training camp thus far has earned good reviews from quarterback Colin Kaepernick and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, though, so the team will be hoping this is just a bump in the road to a successful season.

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Texans cut another 2013 draft pick

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The Houston Texans have now released three of their first five picks in the 2013 NFL draft, with all three players getting cut before ever playing a down for the team.

Today the Texans cut Trevardo Williams, a linebacker chosen in the fourth round of last year’s draft. Williams spent the 2013 season on injured reserve, and after passing a physical yesterday, he lost his job today.

The Texans had two third-round picks in last year’s draft, and both of them are already gone: Brennan Williams was waived with a failed physical last month, while Sam Montgomery was cut last season for a violation of team rules.

Throw in the fact that the Texans have already waived-injured 2013 sixth-round pick Allan Bonner and cut fellow sixth-round pick Chris Jones after training camp last year, and Houston is already without most of the guys it drafted in 2013. Although 2013 first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins and 2013 second-round pick D.J. Swearinger are starters, most of that Texans draft is a big disappointment. G.M. Rick Smith has to be shaking his head at how that draft turned out.

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