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Preseason Power Rankings No. 16: Vikings

Peterson Reuters

The Vikings start the 2013 season smack in the middle of the pack.  They likely won’t finish there.

The unlikely 2012 wild-card team will get either a lot better with the development of a strong passing game, or a lot worse without it.

And so the focal point of the entire franchise becomes the man who is the most important player on every NFL team:  the quarterback.

The Vikings will go as far as Christian Ponder will take them.  And before we go much farther with that point, let’s defer to the various categories we use for every team.

Strengths.

The Vikings’ biggest strength comes from an offense built around Adrian Peterson, the reigning league MVP.  If Peterson, who came within nine yards of the single-season rushing record despite tearing an ACL on Christmas Eve of 2011, runs in 2013 like he ran during the second half of 2012, he could put up 2,500 yards or more.

Helping him try again to topple Eric Dickerson’s record is an offensive line that returns all five starters, even though questions swirl around John Sullivan’s knee, which required microfracture surgery to simulate cartilage growth.  They stepped up to pay right tackle Phil Loadholt, and Matt Kalil had a solid rookie season at left tackle.

Elsewhere on offense, the tight end position features tight end Kyle Rudolph and fullback Jerome Felton.  Both made it to the Pro Bowl; Rudolph was the game’s MVP.

The defensive line continues to be a strong suit for the Vikings, but the winds of change are blowing like that big horn that blares whenever a touchdown is scored.  Defensive end Jared Allen and defensive tackle Kevin Williams enter contract years.  The Vikings need rookie Sharrif Floyd to make a quick impact, and they need guys like Brian Robison and Everson Griffen to show that they can get it done if/when Allen is elsewhere in 2014.

The safety position went quickly from perennial weakness to strength with the arrival in 2012 of Harrison Smith.  If he can continue to develop, the Vikings could soon have one of the strongest last lines of defense in the league.

The Vikings have one of the best kickers in the league in 2012 rookie Blair Walsh, and they could have one of the best punters in 2013 rookie Jeff Locke, who was deemed to be good enough after one minicamp to justify jettisoning veteran Chris Kluwe.

Weaknesses.

The Vikings’ biggest weakness, like their biggest strength, comes from an offense built around Adrian Peterson, the reigning league MVP.  Similar to the pre-Favre years, the Vikings have been unable to take advantage of the attention paid to Peterson with a passing game that stretches the field, in turn making it easier for Peterson to pile up even more yards.

Despite all the bouquets being thrown to third-year quarterback Christian Ponder, he enters a distinct “prove it or lose it” campaign in Minnesota.  And the verdict could come even before the end of the coming season.  If Ponder, the 12th overall pick in 2011, stinks it up badly enough, Matt Cassel could get a chance to resurrect his own once-promising career.

It’s hard to label the receiver position as a strength or a weakness in isolation, but it doesn’t matter.  Together with Ponder, the unit will be viewed as a weakness until they prove otherwise, with Ponder reaching his potential, free-agent Greg Jennings staying healthy and playing effectively, raw rookie Cordarrelle Patterson making an impact more like Randy Moss and less like Troy Williamson, and veteran Jerome Simpson living up to the hype that made him a free-agent arrival in 2012.

On defense, middle linebacker isn’t a weakness as much as it’s unsettled, with Erin Henderson sliding in from the outside and newcomer Desmond Bishop hoping to get healthy and reacquainted with the 4-3 defense.

The cornerback position also has question marks with the departure of Antoine Winfield, but first-round rookie Xavier Rhodes bolsters a group that features quietly improving former second-rounder Chris Cook.

Changes.

The release of veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield could be the first gust that will impact the defense in the coming years, with standouts like Jared Allen and Kevin Williams likely making way for cheaper, younger players.  Two of those guys came via round one, with defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and cornerback Xavier Rhodes joining a gradually improving defense.

With Jasper Brinkley gone for Arizona, the middle linebacker spot is wide open.  Former Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop joins Erin Henderson as the primary candidates to fill the void.

On offense, two new receivers — veteran Greg Jennings and first-rounder Cordarrelle Patterson — make it harder for Christian Ponder to cite a lack of weapons if the passing game doesn’t improve.  They replace Percy Harvin, who was shipped to Seattle for more than the Vikings, who made their playoff push without him in 2012, should have gotten.

Finally, one of the most intriguing players on the roster isn’t a new arrival, but he has a new position.  Three years after switching Joe Webb from receiver to quarterback after his rookie minicamp, Webb has returned to the receiver position, where he’ll have to win a roster spot any way he can.

Position battles.

On offense, many of the jobs are set.  Christian Ponder enters the season as the unquestioned starter; questions will arise only if he stinks it up.

The depth chart at receiver starts with Greg Jennings and continues with a cluster of guys who’ll earn their playing time during training camp and the preseason.  Jerome Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Jarius Wright will battle for playing time.

The biggest question comes at the bottom of the depth chart, where converted quarterback Joe Webb will have to earn his roster spot.  If he can contribute on special teams (he could be returning punts), it’ll help his cause.

First-round rookie Sharrif Floyd will have a chance to take reps from last year’s starters at defensive tackle, Kevin Williams and Letroy Guion, even if Floyd doesn’t get a starting job himself.  Generally speaking, the rotation on the defensive line needs to be determined, with the Vikings hoping to get defensive end Everson Griffen on the field.

At linebacker, Erin Henderson and Desmond Bishop will battle both in the middle and elsewhere, since the guy who loses out on the chance to replace Jasper Brinkley could end up starting on the strong side, across from Chad Greenway.  Don’t rule out Gerald Hodges for some playing time, since he had a very strong offseason.

In the secondary, Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson will fight for a starting spot across from Chris Cook.  A.J. Jefferson could have a chance, too. Robinson also will battle Jacob Lacey for the nickel position.

At safety, Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond, and Robert Blanton will compete to start alongside Harrison Smith.

Prospects.

The Vikings won three games in 2011 before rebounding in unexpected fashion with a playoff berth in 2012.  The team currently lands somewhere in the middle, and it will skew toward good or bad based on Christian Ponder’s ability to develop into a consistent starting quarterback.

At a time when parity has allowed any team to get to the playoffs, only teams with franchise quarterbacks win Super Bowls.  Still, the Vikings have the ability if Ponder is merely competent to become an elite team, thanks to the skills and abilities of Adrian Peterson, an underrated defense, and a young kicker and punter who can contribute three-pointers and field position.

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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

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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

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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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Bryan Bulaga questionable due to concussion

New England Patriots v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

The Packers may need to turn to J.C. Tretter at right tackle again this weekend.

Right tackle Bryan Bulaga is questionable to play in Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers after suffering a concussion in last Sunday’s loss to the Bills. Tretter replaced him and struggled against the Bills defensive line during his time in the game, including a play that saw defensive end Mario Williams beat him for a sack and fumble of Aaron Rodgers that turned into a safety.

The Packers didn’t hold a formal practice on Friday, but coach Mike McCarthy said, via the Green Bay Press-Gazette, that Bulaga would have been limited if they did because he remains in the concussion protocol. McCarthy did say that Bulaga was making process, so he could still get out of the protocol in time for kickoff against the Bucs.

Cornerback Davon House has been ruled out again this week because of a shoulder injury and the team is hopeful that he’d be able to return for a possible playoff game in a couple of weeks.

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Ryan Lindley will start regardless of Drew Stanton’s status

Drew Stanton AP

The Cardinals are holding out hope that quarterback Drew Stanton’s knee will feel well enough for him to suit up on Sunday, but they aren’t wavering from their plan to start Ryan Lindley even if Stanton can play.

Coach Bruce Arians said Friday, via Darren Urban of the team’s website, that Stanton will be a game-time decision on Sunday after getting some practice time in during the week. Arians added that Stanton will be backing up Lindley in the event that decision leads to Stanton being in uniform.

If Stanton isn’t well enough to start, it’s a bit perplexing that the Cardinals would put him into the game at any point since they already have Logan Thomas on the roster to serve as relief for Lindley. Playing a rookie like Thomas against a defense like Seattle’s is hardly an ideal place to find yourself, but neither is playing a balky Stanton when you’ve already booked a ticket for the playoffs.

The Cardinals ruled out guard Jonathan Cooper because of a wrist injury. Paul Fanaika, who missed the last two games with an ankle injury, is expected to return to the lineup.

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