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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 2: Denver Broncos

Seattle Seahawks v Denver Broncos Getty Images

Let the games begin.

You couldn’t blame the Broncos for being eager to start the 2013 season. They are heavy division favorites, strong conference contenders and legitimate Super Bowl challengers, and they have one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.

Hey, it’s good to be the Broncos, even with the news of a potential four-game suspension for Pro Bowl outside linebacker Von Miller surfacing earlier this week.

The Broncos would be weakened without Miller, but they would still be dangerous. After all, they have Manning, still sharp at 37 years old.

But it won’t always be like this for the Broncos and their quarterback.

So forgive the Broncos if they feel a little urgency as they try to better last season’s disappointing one-and-done postseason experience.

Strengths.

Manning added to his already vast legacy with his remarkable comeback season of 2012. In his first year in Denver – with mostly new skill-position players around him, no less – Manning threw for 4,659 yards with 37 TDs and just 11 picks. Moreover, he set a career-high in completion percentage (68.6).

Now, the focus to turns to what Manning and the offense are capable of in Year Two.

The addition of slot receiver Wes Welker further strengthens an already potent passing game. He caught more than two-thirds of the passes thrown his way in each of his six seasons in New England. Opposing secondaries also have the difficult task of matching up with wideout Demaryius Thomas, who hauled in 94 receptions for 1,434 yards and 10 scores in 2012. The Broncos’ other outside receiver, Eric Decker, is quite skilled, too. He comes off an 85-catch, 13-TD campaign.

Manning, a master at dealing with the pass rush and defensive-pressure looks over the years, operates behind a solid Denver line. Left tackle Ryan Clady is one of the game’s best at his position. New right guard Louis Vasquez (ex-San Diego) bolsters the interior.

Indeed, this is an outstanding offense.

And Denver’s defense pulls its weight, too.

Should the Broncos sputter in a key spot, their defense is capable of keeping them in the game.  Such flexibility can take a team a long way. The Broncos excelled vs. the run and the pass in 2012 and allowed fewer yards per play than any other team.

Miller, who recorded 18.5 sacks last year, is the standout of this stout defense – already one of the game’s top pass rushers. If Miller is suspended, the Broncos will likely turn to ex-Chargers outside linebacker Shaun Phillips, still a capable rusher in his own right (team-high 9.5 sacks for San Diego in 2012). The April signing of Phillips could prove a very valuable investment for Denver whether Miller misses any time or not; the more pass rushers a club has, the better.

The same can be said for cornerbacks, and the Broncos have four capable ones in Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Chris Harris and Tony Carter.

To review, the Broncos have a Hall of Fame quarterback, a top-caliber passing game, a blue-chip pass rusher and deep, skilled cornerback corps.

There are worse ways to enter a season.

Weaknesses.

The Broncos’ tailback position could prove a strength if rookie Montee Ball or second-year pro Ronnie Hillman emerges as a dependable and playmaking featured runner. However, until that happens, this is an area of concern. Denver was just 25th in yards per rush last season.

Center, where Dan Koppen again gets the call with J.D. Walton out with a persistent ankle injury, is another position to monitor. So is linebacker, where the overall depth has been thinned after the release of veteran middle linebacker Joe Mays.

The Broncos’ defensive end play also needs to be watched. While left end Derek Wolfe showed promise as a rookie, notching a half-dozen sacks, new right end Robert Ayers has never had more than three sacks in an NFL season.

All things considered, though, the Broncos have considerably less to worry about than any other club in the AFC West.

Changes.

In 2012, the Broncos got 16 games apiece and 29.5 combined sacks from Miller and Dumervil. Now, Miller could miss a quarter of the Broncos’ regular-season games, and Dumervil is in Baltimore after “Faxgate.” Make no mistake: the Broncos’ pass rush is still to be respected, especially when Miller is in the lineup. But if Miller misses any games and the rush suffers, it could have a trickle-down effect on the defense, with the pass defense suffering most.

And if the Broncos don’t muster the pass rush they did in 2012, when Dumervil and Miller combined for more than half of the club’s sacks, the inability to keep Dumervil will look all the worse.

The Dumervil episode aside, however, the Broncos had a very good offseason from a roster-building standpoint. Adding Welker was a coup, and Rodgers-Cromartie has the ability to prove a home-run signing, too, especially on a one-year deal. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton (ex-Jacksonville) was a nice under-the-radar pickup.

In addition to bringing in Phillips, Denver did well to bring in ex-Chargers cornerback Quentin Jammer late in the offseason. Jammer will be tried at safety, a position where the Broncos perhaps needed another option.

Other than Dumervil and Mays, notable Denver departures included tailback Willis McGahee, linebacker D.J. Williams and cornerback Tracy Porter. McGahee’s release signaled the Broncos would be going young at running back.

Finally, the club begins training camp short-handed in the front office – not an ideal situation, given all the roster movement late in the summer — after the suspensions of director of player personnel Matt Russell and director of pro personnel Tom Heckert due to offseason DUI arrests. Heckert’s suspension is a month, while Russell’s suspension is indefinite.

Position battles.

Hillman and Ball would each figure to have roles in the Broncos’ backfield, with fifth-year pro Knowshon Moreno also in the mix. A second-round pick in April, Ball’s draft status would suggest the Broncos believe he can play right off the bat. That said, Hillman has a year in the offense to his credit, which cannot hurt his cause. No matter who wins the job, the Broncos need some stability to develop at this position for the stretch run, when passing can become trickier in the elements.

Other positions where there could be competition are defensive tackle, where Knighton, first-round pick Sylvester Williams and veteran Kevin Vickerson are the top options; and safety, where Mike Adams (strong) and Rahim Moore (free) are the incumbents.

Prospects.

The Broncos face five 2012 playoff teams (Baltimore, Indianapolis, Washington, New England, Houston) in a schedule not without its potential challenges. For instance, five of Denver’s final eight games are on the road. Moreover, any stretch without Miller would add to the degree of difficulty.

However, let’s be clear: This is one of the NFL’s most talented teams. They should win the West and host at least one playoff game.

The goals are bigger for Denver, of course, and they are within reach.  If it were Denver’s year to win a third Super Bowl title, it would hardly be a surprise.

It would also be the sort of thing celebrated by anyone who’s ever faced a tough deadline with a lot at stake and gotten the job done. That’s what the Broncos are staring at entering 2013. They have the pieces to win, but they aren’t all going to be assembled this way for all that long.

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Raiders will honor victims of Oakland warehouse fire

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 03: Smoke rises above a warehouse as firefighters work to put out remaining hot spots following an overnight fire that claimed the lives of at least nine people at a warehouse in the Fruitvale neighborhood on December 3, 2016 in Oakland, California. The warehouse was hosting an electronic music party.  (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Imag Getty Images

Nine people have died and more than 30 more may have been killed in an Oakland warehouse fire during a Friday party. The Raiders will be honoring those affected by the tragedy.

The team has announced that it will match up to $30,000 donated at a YouCaring.com page created by the Oakland A’s.

The Raiders also will observe a moment of silence in recognition of the victims and their families before Sunday’s game against the Bills.

You can make a contribution here.

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Jerry Jones laments inconsistent officiating on Thursday night

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 11:  Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is seen on the field prior to the game against the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Vikings weren’t the only team unhappy with the officiating on Thursday night. The Cowboys, despite prevailing, were displeased, too.

They were inconsistent with their calls, and that was frustrating,” owner Jerry Jones said Friday on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, via Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

It remains to be seen whether that’s enough criticism to warrant a fine from the league office. Typically, the rule against criticizing officials is applied strictly to owners, team executives, and coaches. Players enjoy plenty of leeway; Washington cornerback Josh Norman became a rare exception last month when he individually called out an official by his number.

Whatever the flaws with the officiating on Thursday, the Cowboys managed to win the game and extend their winning streak to 11. There’s a chance the owner’s decision to vent about the game being a closer call than it should have been will come with a price tag.

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Todd Haley touts Pittsburgh’s offensive line

PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 21: The Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line attempts to block the Philadelphia Eagles defensive line in the third quarter on August 21, 2014 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

At a time when most believe the Cowboys have the best offensive line in football, one offensive coordinator begs to differ. Then again, he has a fairly clear bias.

They are playing at a very high level,” Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said regarding his team’s wall of blockers, via Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I said at the beginning of the year . . . that I thought they could be the best in the league. I think they are playing at that level right now.”

It’s a surprising development, given that for years the offensive line was a liability. Indeed, the Steelers won a pair of Super Bowls with subpar blocking.

The 2016 Steelers have allowed only 14 sacks in 11 games, second fewest in the league. The ability of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to extend plays likely has been a factor.

Regardless, it’s one of the big reasons for the success of the team’s offense. Despite some disappointments, the Steelers remain viable contenders in a conference that is still fairly wide open, especially with the Patriots losing Rob Gronkowski and the Raiders having a habit of playing up and down to the level of the competition.

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Antonio Allen calls for reconsideration of “stand your ground” laws

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 21:  Cornerback Antonio Allen #39 of the New York Jets stands in the tunnel before taking the field against the New England Patriots during a game at MetLife Stadium on December 21, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) Getty Images

Multiple American states have laws that essentially permit the modern-day equivalent of a duel. But instead of counting to 10 before firing, the gun can be drawn and the trigger pulled in the inherently subjective instant that someone concludes they are being faced with serious bodily injury or death.

In an item from Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post regarding the profound impact the killing of Joe McKnight has had on the Jets’ locker room, safety Antonio Allen shares some words that may not be profound but that nevertheless are rooted in common sense.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do in this society with all these gray areas in the laws and this [‘stand your ground’] law, in particular,” Allen said. “We’ve got to fix it.”

At a time when football players like 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick have raised legitimate questions about the educational and training requirements applicable to police officers who patrol the streets with license to use deadly force, “stand your ground” laws essentiually give anyone that power — with absolutely no training on when and where and how it should properly be used.

If that sounds like lunacy, maybe that’s because it is. It’s one thing to use firearms to protect one’s home and family. It’s quite another to remove the firearms from the home and authorize their use by anyone who believes that an adequate threat has been encountered.

And good luck unspooling the facts and assessing whether deadly force legitimately was used, especially when one of the key witnesses to the exchange is permanently unable to testify.

So, yes, there’s something unsavory about the prospect of encountering a short-fused Dwight Schrute or Yosemite Sam, who spent all that money for his gun and who would kind of like to have a chance to use it. Until the states that allow a fire-ready-aim approach to interpersonal relationships wake up to the folly of these laws, the best approach for anyone who is out and about in those jurisdictions is to interact with no one, because who knows what’s going to prompt some hothead to pull his six-gun out of the holster and blast it?

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Geno Smith prepares for better days

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 23:  Quarterback Geno Smith #7 of the New York Jets celebrates against the Baltimore Ravens at MetLife Stadium on October 23, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

When compiling a list of up to 20 veteran quarterbacks with starting experience who could be available in 2017, I overlooked a guy who definitely will be on the market: Jets quarterback Geno Smith.

The 2013 second-round pick becomes a free agent in March. But he’s recovering from a torn ACL, and by all appearances the Jets won’t be bringing him back. So what’s next?

“My mom told me something that was pretty special,” Smith said Friday, via Fred Kerber of the New York Post. “She’d been going to my games since I was a kid and never missed a game. And these past few years, I missed more games than I missed in my life and she said, ‘There’s always a time for that, there’s always a season where you feel like things aren’t going right. And then what comes after that is usually the best part of your life.'”

It’s always admirable to have a positive attitude, but that will take a football player only so far. At some point, positivity must intersect with talent, and Smith has done little during his NFL career to display that he has enough of it to win and keep a starting job.

Personally, the fact that Smith played college football in my home state of West Virginia makes me inclined to root for him. But I’m also realistic; the odds are stacked against him, even in a league without enough quarterbacks to go around. The key is to be a quality quarterback, and Smith has not yet demonstrated that type of ability on a consistent basis.

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Lions cut Justin Forsett

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 23: Justin Forsett #30 of the Detroit Lions looks for room to run with the football against Bashaud Breeland #26 of the Washington Redskins during first half action  at Ford Field on October 23, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Lions made a series of roster moves ahead of Sunday’s game at New Orleans.

Defensive end Armonty Bryant was activated from the reserve-suspended list after serving a three-game suspension, and wide receiver T.J. Jones was promoted from the practice squad.

Veteran running back Justin Forsett and cornerback Johnthan Banks were released.

Forsett had appeared in two games after being released by the Ravens for the second time this season. With the Lions’ younger backs now healthy and the need to get Bryant back in the lineup to help the pass rush, he was released.

Bryant had three sacks in four games for the Lions before serving his second suspension of the season. Banks played in four games for the Buccaneers earlier this season. He’s played in 23 career games.

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Seahawks activate Morgan, place Tripp on IR

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 22: Tight end Vance McDonald #89 of the San Francisco 49ers is tackled by linebacker Mike Morgan #57 of the Seattle Seahawks during the football game at CenturyLink Field on November 22, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks won the game 29-13. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Seahawks made two linebacker-related roster moves Saturday.

Mike Morgan was activated from the team’s injured-reserve list. He had missed seven games after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia in October.

Morgan is a sixth-year player who’s been a valuable backup and utility man for the Seahawks. He played in four games and made one start before the surgery.

Jordan Tripp was placed on the team’s injured-reserve list. He made his second career start last week but suffered what Seahawks coach Pete Carroll called a quad bruise and a knee injury.

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Chargers call up nose tackle, place Attaochu on IR

San Diego Chargers v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The Chargers placed outside linebacker Jerry Attaochu on the season-ending injured-reserve list on Saturday.

Attaochu suffered a foot injury in last week’s win over the Texans. He had two sacks on the season and was also fourth on the team in special teams tackles.

To fill his spot on the roster, the Chargers promoted nose tackle Ryan Carrethers from the practice squad. Carrethers is a third-year player who’s previously spent time this season on the active roster and the practice squad. He’s played in 20 career games.

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Here’s an idea for making Week 17 even better

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  DeVante Parker #11 of the Miami Dolphins celebrates his touchdwon with teammate Jarvis Landry #14 during the fourth quarter of the game against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Coliseum on November 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL deserves far more credit than it has gotten for giving players one week to deviate from the obsession with uniformity, via the wearing of non-conforming clears that support a wide variety of causes. So at a time when the league is feeling surprisingly charitable — and may be shocked to learn that the sport won’t implode over the use of shoes that aren’t all the same color — here’s another idea.

It wasn’t mine. PFT Live producer Rob “Stats” Guerrera, who usually contributes little or nothing during the three-hour radio/TV show (I don’t really mean that, unless I do), uncorked a doozy on Friday.

The notion came after Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry, whose cleats on Sunday will raise awareness for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, was asked to identify the one rule he’d change if the had the chance.

“I’m a happy-go-lucky guy, I’d probably say the celebrations,” Landry said. “Just let everybody bring back that old feel when Ochocinco was dancing and T.O. was dancing . . . . Things like that. Bring the love and energy back to the game.”

After the visit with Landry ended, Stats made this suggestion: For Week 17 of every season, the NFL should let players celebrate however they want.

There would likely need to be some limitations; a team paying homage to the Fun Bunch after a fourth-quarter first down in a blowout would take things too far. But for every touchdown scored that week, why not let the players do anything they want — short of grabbing their ding-dings or miming the dropping of a deuce?

It makes so much sense that it’ll never happen. The fact that the NFL has decided to give the players one week to wear non-conforming cleats suggests that maybe there’s hope that unwarranted concerns about creating acrimony among opponents (so what if it does?) and/or usurping the cheerleaders’ monopoly on sexually-suggestive messages will be set aside for one week per year.

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Malcolm Mitchell makes an impact for the Patriots

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 27:   Malcolm Mitchell #19 of the New England Patriots misses a catche against Darryl Roberts #27 of the New York Jets during the first half in the game at MetLife Stadium on November 27, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) Getty Images

Yes, the Patriots will be missing one of their primary offensive weapons for the rest of the year. But they’re developing another offensive weapon, much earlier than they usually do.

Receiver Malcolm Mitchell, the only player to beat Darrelle Revis for two touchdowns in the same game, is the rare rookie receiver to make an impact for the Patriots.

“It’s just encouragement to go out there in practice and work harder and harder and harder so our team can be put in the best situations to win,” Mitchell said, via Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald.

Of course, Mitchell still only has 16 catches for 235 yards on the year, so he has a long way to go to be one of the team’s true playmakers. But he’s been making progress lately, and by the time the playoffs roll around he could be in position to contribute like something more than a rookie.

One key for Mitchell, a fourth-round draft pick from Georgia, has been learning how to get away from press coverage.

“He is catching everything in practice,” cornerback Eric Rowe said, via Howe. “We have tight coverage on him, especially in one-on-ones, and he is still making the catch. It could be a 2-yard gain, but the fact is he is still making the catch. I’ve seen that a lot better from him. At practice, I used to get really good jams on him at the line to kind of stun him, but now he is starting to figure out different types of releases so he won’t get stopped at the line, kind of get off the press and get open even better.”

It’s all part of earning the trust of one of the greatest quarterback in league history. Once Mitchell secures the faith of Tom Brady, Mitchell could further diversify an offense that will need all the help it can get with Rob Gronkowski likely done for the year.

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Patriots put Rob Gronkowski on IR, ending his season

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots looks on during the first half against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on September 22, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is done for 2016.

Gronkowski has been placed on injured reserve after back surgery, the team announced.

Although the NFL does give each team one “return” designation to bring a player back from injured reserve, the Patriots have already used that designation on backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett. So Gronk can’t play again until 2017.

It’s a huge disappointment for Gronkowski, who is among the best tight ends ever to play the position when healthy — but who struggles to stay healthy for any significant period of time. This is his third back surgery, which raises questions about his future.

But for now, thoughts are on his present. Gronkowski will get to work rehabbing his back and attempt to be ready in time for the start of offseason work. And the Patriots will attempt to adjust their offense to losing its best playmaker.

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Jags promote Wynn, place Greene on IR

CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 20: Wide receiver Shane Wynn #5 of the Cleveland Browns is tackled by linebacker Tony Steward #50 of the Buffalo Bills during the second half of a preseason game at FirstEnergy Stadium on August 20, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Bills defeated the Browns 11-10. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jaguars made a wide receiver swap Sunday, promoting Shane Wynn from the practice squad and placing Rashad Greene on their injured-reserve list.

Greene has an Achilles injury.

With Greene out for the year and Allen Hurns out Sunday due to a hamstring injury, Wynn will likely be in uniform and make his NFL debut vs. the Broncos.

Wynn broke into the NFL with the Falcons in 2015, then spent some time with his hometown team, the Browns. He later spent time on the practice squad with the Jets, Chargers and Saints and has spent this season on the Jaguars’ practice squad.

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Andrew Luck exits injury report

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - OCTOBER 30:  Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts reacts on the sideline during the second quarter of the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 30, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Colts will have quarterback Andrew Luck on Monday night.

Luck doesn’t appear on the final injury report in advance of the game against the Jets, which means that he has been cleared to play, 12 days after landing in the concussion protocol following a win over the Titans.

The franchise quarterback missed Indy’s Thanksgiving night visit from the Steelers, which the Colts lost to fall to 5-6.

Out for the Colts are safety Clayton Geathers (neck), linebacker Robert Mathis (bicep), and cornerback Patrick Robinson (groin).

Questionable for the game are tackle Denzelle Good (shoulder), receiver T.Y. Hilton (back), and defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway (back). Hilton took a hard hit to the lower back from Steelers safety Mike Mitchell in the Week 12 loss.

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Packers scratch T.J. Lang, JC Tretter

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 13:   JC Tretter #73 of the Green Bay Packers gets in position at the line of scrimmage against the Dallas Cowboys in the second quarter at Lambeau Field on December 13, 2015 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

The good news for the Packers is that quarterback Aaron Rodgers remains on track to play, despite a hamstring injury suffered on Monday night. The bad news for the Packers is that Rodgers won’t have 40 percent of his offensive line.

The Packers have downgraded center JC Tretter and guard T.J. Lang to out for Sunday’s game against the Texans. Tretter has a knee injury, and Lang has a foot injury. Both had been listed as doubtful.

The Packers also added cornerback Damarious Randall to the injury report with a groin injury. He’s questionable for the matchup with the Texans.

Despite being two games behind the 7-4 Lions, the 5-6 Packers have the inside track to the division title. If they pick up one game over the next four weeks (and the Lions play at New Orleans, at the Giants, and at Dallas), the Week 17 game between the Lions and Packers becomes a playoff play-in game.

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Jadeveon Clowney ruled out at Green Bay

Jadeveon Clowney AP

During his first two NFL seasons, Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney missed 15 games with injuries and fell short of expectations. But this year, Cloweny has stayed healthy and become the difference-maker on defense the Texans hoped he’d be.

Unfortunately, now Clowney is hurt again.

The Texans announced today that Clowney’s elbow and wrist injuries are serious enough that he will not travel with the team to Green Bay for tomorrow’s big game against the Packers.

Without Clowney to pressure Aaron Rodgers, the Packers’ offense should benefit. And beating the Packers will get that much harder for the Texans.

Tomorrow’s game has playoff implications for both teams. The 6-5 Texans have a half-game lead in the AFC south, while the 5-6 Packers are two games back in the NFC North.

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