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Victor Butler to visit Saints Thursday

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

After already meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers late last week, linebacker Victor Butler has another visit set up with the New Orleans Saints.

According to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com, Butler will visit the Saints Thursday.

Butler played the last four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys with the last two years under new Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Per Larry Holder of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Saints were going to heavily pursue Butler if he left his Pittsburgh visit without a contract.

Butler served in a mostly reserve role for the Cowboys in his four seasons in Dallas. Butler has missed just one game in four season and has 11 sacks despite limited playing time. Last season, Butler recorded 25 tackles, three sacks, three passes defensed and two forced fumbles.

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Derek Carr leads Raiders to four touchdown drives against Seahawks

Derek Carr AP

Derek Carr is making the most of his final preseason opportunity against the Seattle Seahawks.

The rookie quarterback has led the Oakland Raiders to four consecutive touchdown drives to open the game against the Seahawks.

Carr led a 12-play, 68-yard scoring drive to tie the game at 7-7 after Seattle took an early lead. Carr converted a pair of 3rd-and-10 opportunities on the drive before Latavius Murray capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run.

Oakland’s special teams then helped set up two more scores.

Keith McGill stripped Seattle kick returner Bryan Walters on the ensuing kickoff  which Oakland managed to recover. It took just one play for Carr to connect with Denarius Moore for a 36-yard touchdown behind former Oakland cornerback Phillip Adams for a touchdown.

After a Seattle three-and-out, T.J. Carrie returned the punt 45 yards into Seattle territory. Again, it took one play for Carr to strike as tight end Mychal Rivera reeled a tipped pass by Malcolm Smith for a 20-yard touchdown.

Another three-and-out by Seattle led to another touchdown by Oakland. Carr marched the Raiders 61 yards on eight plays with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Moore to cap the drive and give the Raiders a 28-7 lead.

Carr’s night was done after the fourth touchdown drive of the game and was replaced by Matt McGloin. Carr finished 11-for-13 for 143 yards and three touchdowns. With Matt Schaub battling a sore elbow, Carr put together a terrific final impression before the start of the regular season that may cause second thoughts as to who should start the season opener against the New York Jets.

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Bruce Arians delegates play calling in preseason finale

Bruce Arians AP

Be wary of playing poker with the man in the Kangol.

Arizona head coach Brian Arians gave play calling duties to offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin in preseason finale against San Diego, Darren Urban of the Cardinals’ website reported Thursday night.

As Urban noted, part of the reasoning for Arians’ decision could be that the Cardinals and Chargers play again in less than two weeks in the regular season opener. And, of course, Thursday’s game is meaningless in the standings. So it’s a dry run for Goodwin, should he ever need to call plays, and it could also be a nice bit of strategy from Arians.

So good hand, Coach Arians. If we see you at the two-five no-limit table at the Wynn, we’ll just head to the coffee shop instead, thank you very much.

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Santonio Holmes impresses in Bears’ exhibition finale

Santonio Holmes, Justin Gilbert AP

In the span of a little less than 10 minutes in Thursday night’s exhibition at Cleveland, new Bears wide receiver Santonio Holmes made a pair of plays that suggest he’s got some good football left to play.

First, the 30-year-old Holmes turned a short reception into a 32-yard touchdown when Browns rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert took a bad angle. Then, minutes later, Holmes broke a 30-yard punt return, running through two tackle attempts, keeping his balance and finding plenty of open space toward the Browns’ sideline. The return set up a Chicago field goal.

Off the field, Holmes did something notable, too. According to Bears sideline reporter Lou Canellis, Holmes gave the ball from his first Bears TD to rookie quarterback David Fales, who threw the pass. It was Fales’ first scoring throw as a pro, and Holmes wanted him to have the ball as a keepsake, Canellis said on the Bears’ telecast of the game.

In all, it was a good stretch for Holmes, who’s trying to find a role with the Bears after being released by the Jets earlier in the offseason.

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Brian Hoyer ends his preseason with a touchdown drive

Brian Hoyer AP

Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer spent most of the preseason competing to become the starting quarterback in Cleveland and may have prolonged the process with mediocre play in the team’s early preseason games, but he ended the summer on a good note.

Hoyer played one series against the Bears on Thursday night and took the Browns on a 13-play, 85-yard drive that ended with a Ben Tate touchdown run. Hoyer was 6-of-8 for 69 yards on the drive, including two passes to rookie Taylor Gabriel for 38 yards.

At 5-foot-8 and 167 pounds, Gabriel isn’t going to be a fill-in for the suspended Josh Gordon but the Browns could use all the encouraging developments they can get at wide receiver. Tight end Jordan Cameron, who is expected to see his targets go up with Gordon out of the lineup, also had a catch.

All of this came against Chicago backups, so the success will and should be taken with a few grains of salt. As George Costanza would tell you, though, it’s always good to exit on a high note.

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Sleepy Derek Anderson leaves game with hand injury

Carolina Panthers v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Maybe Derek Anderson should have stayed home with the family and gotten some sleep.

And maybe the Panthers would have been better off if he had.

The Panthers quarterback stayed in Charlotte last night to witness the birth of his daughter, flew to Pittsburgh this morning because they only had one other healthy quarterback, and was promptly injured.

Anderson just went to the locker room with a trainer and the team doctor after taking a shot on his throwing hand while trying to cover an air-mailed snap.

He was checked out on the sidelines by trainers before heading in for X-rays, and won’t return to the game.

With starter Cam Newton out nursing a hairline fracture of a rib, that leaves Joe Webb as their only remaining quarterback.

It was a solid gesture of Anderson to make the trip considering Newton’s injury, but if he’s hurt, they’re going to wish they insisted he take a longer maternity leave.

UPDATE 9:17 p.m. ET: X-rays on Anderson’s hand were negative, but he won’t return.

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How much has the domestic violence policy really changed? (Possibly a lot.)

Rice AP

The NFL received a much-deserved round of national applause for finally admitting that which pretty much everyone knew:  The league got it wrong when suspending Ravens running back Ray Rice for only two games for committing domestic violence against his then-fiancée.

But setting aside the rare public mea culpa, which didn’t happen in the bungled bounty case against the Saints, the question becomes whether anything has really changed.

It’s a fair question that was flagged by Barry Petchesky of Deadspin.  The language of the new policy states that the NFL can consider “[m]itigating circumstances” in reducing a suspension below the six-game standard penalty for a first offense.

In other words, the league can reduce the suspension below six games, pointing to the same excuses that were identified both publicly and privately in defending the two-game suspension for Rice, from Rice’s clean history to his high character to the potential for extreme provocation from the victim to the decision of prosecutors to allow Rice to enter a diversionary program.  Indeed, it’s possible that Rice, under the new standard, still would have been suspended only two games.

Possible, but not likely.  The NFL’s mistake in the Rice case arose from the league’s belief that, in most cases, significant penalties should not apply for a first-time offender.  The new domestic violence policy, by pegging the baseline discipline at six games for a first offense, breaks from the prior presumption that once may be an accident, but that twice is definitely a trend.

The far more significant change to the new domestic violence/sexual assault policy comes in response to a second offense.  Now, the NFL will implement a mandatory banishment of at least one year for a player who engages in the same or similar behavior twice:  “A second offense will result in banishment from the league; an offender may petition for reinstatement after one year but there is no assurance that the petition will be granted.”

That’s a harsh standard, which says nothing about mitigating factors or any of the other wiggle room that would allow the league to reduce the punishment below one year.

Also, an “offense” for the new policy isn’t confined to domestic violence and sexual assault.  The enhanced policy also generally includes assault and battery.  Technically, this means that a pair of bar fights can, in theory, get a guy kicked out of the league.

Whether the new policy is applied that strictly remains to be seen, especially when it’s unclear what a player’s offense actually was.  If, for example, a player initially is arrested for assault but later pleads guilty to disorderly conduct even if the facts suggest an assault occurred, will that be a first offense?  And will that next reduced plea to disorderly conduct get him thrown out of the league for a full year?

Based on the plain language of the new policy, it’s entirely possible that the new policy will be applied strictly and broadly.  In the end, the message from the league office to all players could be this:  “If you didn’t like what we did to Ray Rice, you’re gonna hate what we may do to you.”

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Another dismal outing for Giants offense

Eli Manning AP

Tom Coughlin threatened his offense with playing in the fifth preseason game of the summer if they didn’t pick up their game against the Jets and followed through with it on Thursday night against the Patriots.

The Pats threw a crew of backups out on defense against them, but the Giants starters couldn’t take advantage. They played two series, got one first down and punted twice before being pulled out of either injury prevention or exasperation.

Eli Manning was 1-of-4 passing the ball with his one completion going for no gain when tight end Kellen Davis was stoned by Tavon Wilson on a third-and-two in the first quarter. That brings his preseason to a close with 14 completions in 34 tries for 145 yards and a touchdown. The blocking wasn’t great on Thursday night either, so it’s an understatement to say that the passing offense still looks far away from where it needs to be when the games start counting.

If there were a sixth preseason game, Coughlin would surely be threatening them with that as well. There isn’t, of course, and Coughlin’s going to have to play them against the Lions in the opener. That means the only threat right now is one to Coughlin’s ability to avoid turning his skin permanently crimson while watching the unit flail about.

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Jerry Jones admits to talking to Adrian Peterson, doesn’t address the key issue

Jones AP

In a pre-game radio interview that aired on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas/Ft. Worth, Cowboys owner/General Manager/unofficial team doctor Jerry Jones addressed the now-notorious June conversation with Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, which reportedly included Peterson expressing a desire to play for the Cowboys.

Jones admitted talking to Peterson, explaining that an associate of Peterson’s gave Jones the phone, possibly passing it through the ESPN writer who was working on a profile of Jerry Jones.

“We basically talked,” Jones said.  “Adrian’s from Texas and certainly it was easy to talk to such a great player.”

Jones at no point denied that Adrian said he wants to play for the Cowboys after his time with the Vikings ends, and Jones said nothing about the words attributed to him in the ESPN profile regarding the topic of Peterson potentially becoming a Cowboy.

If Peterson indeed said that he wants to play for the Cowboys, Jones should have (under the tampering policy) immediately ended the call and alerted the league office.  Those facts alone could be enough to trigger a violation of the league’s tampering policy.

Moving forward, look for the league to quietly investigate this one, posing far more pointed questions to Peterson, Jones, and anyone else who knows anything about a highly unusual communication between a player who is the face of one franchise, and an owner who is the face of another.

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Sammy Watkins suffers rib injury in preseason finale

Sammy Watkins AP

The Bills saw one of their key offensive starters depart their exhibition finale with an injury.

Rookie wideout Sammy Watkins will miss the rest of Thursday’s game vs. Detroit with a rib injury, BuffaloBills.com reported.

It’s unclear whether Watkins has aggravated his bruised ribs — a preexisting injury he’s dealt with this summer — or suffered a new injury. He left the game not long after being hit in the upper body by Lions linebacker Ashlee Palmer on an incomplete pass in the first quarter.

The Bills played some first-teamers on offense, including quarterback EJ Manuel, in this, their fifth preseason game of the summer. The upside of such an approach is perhaps tied to the offense’s future performance, though it is not easily quantified. The downside to the approach, though, is clear, and the Bills have to hope Watkins was merely shaken up in this meaningless game 10 days before the regular season opener at Chicago.

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Colts lose another offensive lineman to injury

Joe Reitz

The Colts have seen injuries cost them guard Donald Thomas for the season and center Khaled Holmes for all but one drive of preseason action and they didn’t get through their final exhibition of the summer without seeing another offensive lineman go down.

Veteran Joe Reitz, who was playing left tackle for the Colts on Thursday but has played all over the line during his career, left the game with an ankle injury. His return is being called questionable.

If Reitz were to miss any significant time — the Colts announced it is a high ankle sprain — the Colts will have an almost barren cupboard behind their starting offensive line. Things are so thin that they replaced Reitz at left tackle on Thursday with Tyler Hoover, who is on the roster as a defensive end. Chandler Harnish is playing quarterback for the Colts against the Bengals and he might want to speed up his delivery under the circumstances.

Whether or not Reitz misses a lot of time, the Colts should be be looking for offensive line depth on the waiver wire this weekend because they don’t want anyone giving Andrew Luck the same advice this season.

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Kyle Van Noy has surgery to repair core muscle injury

Kyle Van Noy, Rod Streater AP

The Lions are going to start the regular season without second-round pick Kyle Van Noy in the lineup.

Van Noy had surgery to repair a core muscle injury on Thursday and Tim Twentyman of the team’s website suggests that it could be an extended absence for the rookie. Twentyman writes that when the Lions are setting their initial 53-man roster this weekend they will have to decide whether “they’ll look at it week-to-week or place him on injured reserve with the designation to return.”

Van Noy played in the first two preseason games for Detroit, recording two tackles, before going out with the injury during the week leading up to the third game of the summer. If he’s going to be out for anything more than a few weeks, there’s a good chance that the Lions will avail themselves of the ability to bring him back from injured reserve because they’ll need the roster spot at some point in the early part of the season.

Tahir Whitehead started at strong-side linebacker for the second straight game on Thursday night. His 11-tackle, three-sack performance against the Jaguars last week was a pretty good audition for a regular role.

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Blake Bortles continues his strong preseason

bortles AP

The Jacksonville Jaguars insist that rookie quarterback Blake Bortles will spend 2014 on the bench, behind starter Chad Henne. But Bortles sure looks like he’s ready to start in the NFL right now.

Bortles continued his strong preseason performance today in the preseason finale against the Falcons, completing four of his six passes for 86 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown pass to fellow rookie Marqise Lee. That touchdown pass was a thing of beauty: Bortles stood in the pocket with pressure in his face and threw the ball about 50 yards in the air, right into Lee’s hands.

Overall, Bortles is now 32-for-51 for 521 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions, in the preseason.

So why isn’t that enough for Bortles to earn the starting job? Because Jaguars coach Gus Bradley has said all along that there’s nothing Bortles can do to earn the starting job, at least as long as Henne is healthy. The Jaguars have stuck to their plan of giving Bortles a year to learn, while Henne plays.

But if Henne struggles, that’s going to be a difficult plan to stick to. Bortles looks too good to ride the pine. Unless Henne makes the Jaguars a surprise playoff contender, expect Bortles to start as a rookie. Even if it won’t come in Week One.

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Five Questions: Arizona Cardinals

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

The Arizona Cardinals won seven of their final nine games last season as they made a late-season push for a playoff spot in a difficult NFC West. The defense finished the year ranked 6th in the league and Carson Palmer passed for over 4,000 yards.

They’ve lost some significant pieces to that defense this offseason and the offensive line continues to have some questions despite the addition of Jared Veldheer at left tackle.

The NFC West looks imposing once again and the Cardinals are looking up at Seattle and San Francisco for bragging rights in the division.

Here are five questions that could ultimately determine whether the Cardinals can rundown the top of the division this season:

1. Have the Cardinals lost too much defensively?

The Cardinals defense was one of the best in the league last season. However, they’ve lost three major pieces from that unit this year.

Karlos Dansby left in free agency for the Cleveland Browns, Daryl Washington was suspended for the season due to repeated substance-abuse violations and Darnell Dockett suffered a torn ACL in training camp.

That leaves a major void that the Cardinals may not be able to fill through the middle of their defense.

Arizona has added Isaac Sopoaga, Ryan McBean, Tommy Kelly, Larry Foote and Ernie Sims in an attempt to patch some of the holes, but the production lost from the departed pieces is significant.

2. Is Carson Palmer able to limit turnovers?

Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer passed for 4,274 yards and 24 touchdowns last year. The problem with those numbers is that they came along with 22 interceptions and three lost fumbles.

With the continued emergence of receiver Michael Floyd, the Cardinals passing offense became a more dynamic unit last season. However, Palmer turned the ball over too many times and it came back to cost Arizona all too frequently.

Palmer is still a capable quarterback but the turnovers have to come down this season. With the defense looking potentially weakened due to the losses we already detailed, the Cardinals will need to maximize every opportunity they have to possess the ball.

One thing that would help Palmer?

3. Can the offensive line hold up to allow the offense to function at a high level?

Veteran Eric Winston is gone, leaving the right side of the Cardinals offensive line again in doubt.

Paul Fanaika and Bobby Massie have both been fairly pedestrian at best in their opportunities to play in Arizona.

Jared Veldheer is a nice addition at left tackle. Lyle Sendlein is a capable center and second-year guard Jonathan Cooper has great potential. However, the right side could be problematic.

Arizona’s offense has weapons. With Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Ted Ginn and John Brown at receiver and Andre Ellington in the backfield, the potential for a strong offense is there. But the offense line must be able to perform to give their skill players the opportunities they need.

4. Is Arizona capable of dethroning Seattle and/or San Francisco in the NFC West?

Coming off their Super Bowl victory, the Seattle Seahawks look to be as strong as their title team from a season ago.

However, the San Francisco 49ers don’t look nearly as untouchable.

San Francisco’s first-team offense has struggled mightily this preseason to produce points. NaVorro Bowman will miss a sizable chunk of the season. Glenn Dorsey is out for the year and nothing appears to be in sync right now for the 49ers.

Arizona finished 2013 as one of the hottest teams in the league and is the only team in two years to win a game in Seattle. With the strength of the NFC West, it’s likely Arizona will have to supplant either Seattle or San Francisco to find themselves in the postseason this January.

5. Can Andre Ellington carry the rushing attack?

Andre Ellington proved to be a terrific change-of-pace option for the Arizona Cardinals at running back last season.

Ellington carried 118 times for 652 yards and three touchdowns last season as a secondary option to starter Rashard Mendenhall. Now with Mendenhall gone, Ellington will get his chance to be the lead back for the Cardinals.

Ellington started just one game last season as a rookie but posted an impressive 5.5 yards per carry average in the chances he received. Will he be able to duplicate that production with an expanded role?

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Five Questions: Chicago Bears

Philadelphia Eagles v Chicago Bears Getty Images

There will surely be moments this season where the Chicago Bears look like contenders — legit contenders. They will look this way because of their offense, which is loaded with top-tier talent at quarterback (Jay Cutler), tailback (Matt Forte) and wide receiver (Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery). In fact, the Bears may look their very best when they are behind and it’s time for Cutler and Co. to pass Chicago back into the game.

Assuming the 2014 Bears stay healthy on offense, they are going to have more than enough highlights for the annual NFL Films season-review video. But can the Bears do enough in the other phases to be a playoff team? Are they going to be a lamentable 8-8 or a you-don’t-want-to-face-them-in-January 10-6 or 11-5?

Here are five questions to weigh about these intriguing Bears:

1. Will Jay Cutler be named to the Pro Bowl for the second time in his career?

We hear you: The Pro Bowl doesn’t matter, you say. Look at some of the recent rosters — the game has lost luster being moved a week before the Super Bowl, which precludes players from the conference winners playing in the NFL’s all-star affair. And what’s the deal with the new captains system? Why not call it the “Rock N’ Jock Football Jam” and get it over with?

Well, in the case of Cutler, a Pro Bowl selection would be a big deal. And we’re talking about a selection right off the bat, not an addition to the roster because of injuries/defections at the position.

Here’s why this would be notable:

It means he played all or nearly all of a full season. Considering he’s missed at least five games in two out of the last three seasons, 16 Cutler starts would be a welcome development for Chicago.

It means the Bears’ offense likely would have met the high expectations set for the group entering this season. There haven’t been many, if any, Chicago offenses with this much talent. If Cutler shines, the Bears’ skill position players should stand out, too.

He would have beaten out several other capable quarterbacks along the way. Consider the NFC’s depth at the position: Aaron Rodgers. Drew Brees. Russell Wilson. Colin Kaepernick. Nick Foles. Tony Romo. Cam Newton. Matt Ryan. Matthew Stafford. Robert Griffin III. Eli Manning. If Cutler is one of the NFC’s top three initial selections at the position, he likely will have had a monster year.

2. Was the Bears’ preseason debacle at Seattle an aberration — or a chilling hint of where the club fits in the NFC’s pecking order?

In the third preseason game for both clubs last Friday, Seattle converted all seven third-down attempts in the first half, running out to a 31-0 halftime lead on Chicago. Yes, it was just an exhibition, but it was the most important of the preseason games — the closest to a real dress rehearsal. And under the somewhat-bright lights, Chicago wilted. At best, it’s a throw-out performance, one not to be taken at face value. At worst, it’s a loss that suggests Chicago’s ceiling isn’t at high at all.

3. Is Chicago’s defense materially better than a season ago?

It better be. The Bears’ run defense was the NFL’s worst a season ago — and the pass defense wasn’t much better, frankly. Chicago spent big in free agency to improve the defensive line, signing defensive ends Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young. Then, in the draft, the club added secondary help in Round One, selecting Kyle Fuller.

The moves were a nod to the obvious — the Bears needed to get deeper and more talented on defense. If indeed the Bears have succeeded in this regard, it should show up early in matchups against the Bills (Week One) and Jets (Week Three) — clubs without much offensive punch.

4. Will the special teams be a weakness?

For years, the Bears’ special teams were a major strength, but entering 2014, they are, at best, a question mark outside of steady kicker Robbie Gould. The Bears’ coverage units are worth monitoring; Chicago really struggled in his regard at Seattle. The Bears also need a returner to emerge to replace Devin Hester. And Chicago is untested at punter and long-snapper, too.

5. Can the Bears survive their first nine games?

After beginning their season at home vs. the Bills on Sept. 7, the Bears then play 6-of-8 away from Soldier Field, with road trips to the 49ers (Sept. 14), Jets (Sept. 22), Panthers (Oct. 5), Falcons (Oct. 12), Patriots (Oct. 26) and Packers (Nov. 9). This will be a test of the Bears’ resolve and their readiness. They probably will have to shake off some adversity and perhaps steal a road game or two early to give themselves a chance to make the most of having five of their last seven at home. If the Bears are truly playoff contenders, they can emerge from these first nine games with a winning record. However, if they start slowly, it’s probably unreasonable to expect a strong stretch run.

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League isn’t saying whether Ray Rice would be a second-time offender

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Getty Images

With the NFL introducing a new domestic violence policy that includes the possibility of a lifetime ban for a second offense, an obvious question arises regarding Ravens running back Ray Rice.

Does Rice’s first offense, which was handled so badly that the NFL had to tear up the entire policy, count as a “first offense” under the new policy, putting him in line for the far more serious penalties that apply to a second offense?

Via Clifton Brown of CSNBaltimore.com, the league has declined to respond to that question.

We are not going to address that,” an NFL spokesman told Brown.  “Each case will be addressed individually on its merits.”

The NFL spokesman also declined to address whether Rice’s suspension could be increased from two games to six under the new policy.

The notion that each case will be addressed on its merits represents another way of saying, “We’ll decide what we want to do in each given case.”  And that’s a subtle but real difference from the adherence to “precedent” that the NFL cited in initially defending the decision to suspend Rice for only two games.

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