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Matt Cassel will start for Vikings

Minnesota Vikings Media Access Getty Images

The Vikings sent a hint about who would be their starting quarterback against the Steelers at Friday’s practice when Christian Ponder was on the sideline without a helmet during the portion of practice open to the media.

They confirmed it a short time later. The Vikings have announced that Matt Cassel will get the start against Pittsburgh in Sunday’s game at Wembley Stadium in London.

Coach Leslie Frazier was adamant earlier this week that the only way Cassel would start was if Ponder’s fractured rib was too bothersome for him to be in the lineup, a statement designed to combat the notion that the injury was a convenient reason to make a quarterback change that many in Minnesota have been clamoring for during the team’s 0-3 start. Chip Scoggins of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports Frazier said Friday that the team felt it was too risky to put Ponder out there with the rib injury. There’s no timetable for his return.

The decision will push a real answer to that question until after the Steelers game and the bye week to follow. If Cassel plays well on Sunday, there will be pressure for Frazier to keep him at quarterback moving forward regardless of Ponder’s health. If not, the Vikings will be 0-4 and Frazier will be feeling pressure of an entirely different sort.

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Eric Ebron out for Lions on Sunday

Eric Ebron AP

As the Lions try to get their first win of the season, they’ll have to do it without a key piece of their passing game. Tight end Eric Ebron is out for the game with a knee injury.

Ebron reportedly suffered no structural damage to his knee as a result of a Monday night injury in Seattle. Ebron did not practice at all this week.

Regarded as a disappointment during his rookie season, which included only 25 receptions for 248 yards and one touchdown, Ebron already has generated 15 catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns in four games this year.

The good news for the Lions is that tight end Brandon Pettigrew is on track to return to action. He injured a hamstring in Week One, and he hasn’t played since then. Pettigrew is listed as probable for Sunday’s game against the 3-1 Cardinals.

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Prop rule comes from desire to “prevent things from escalating”

Josh Norman AP

The Week Four games contained a pair of touchdown celebrations that included the use of the ball as a prop. One of them (Panthers cornerback Josh Norman pretending to ride a horse with the ball apparently serving as the horse) drew a flag. One of them (Rams receiver Stedman Bailey taking a nap with the ball as a pillow) didn’t.

In the league’s weekly officiating video, NFL V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino explained the purpose for the rule.

‘This is a rule that was put in place to prevent things from escalating,” Blandino said. “We had situations where players were using the ball as a prop. It was getting elaborate, it was getting extensive. And we were creating this animosity with the team that scored and then the team that got scored upon, and we were ending up with altercations, and this got out of control.”

Norman’s use of the ball as a prop definitely triggered animosity from the crowd in Tampa; at 8:16 of the video, a hand showing a middle finger to Norman appears in the foreground of the video.

Blandino acknowledged that Bailey’s conduct, like Norman’s, should have been penalized.

“We have continue to work to be consistent, in not just this area but every area, so we want both of these to be called,” Blandino said. “We certainly don’t want to take the fun out of the game. Players can celebrate, they can high five, they can fist bump, whatever it is. But they cannot use the football as a prop, they can’t do anything that would be considered in poor taste, something that would be mimicking a violent gesture, whether that’s a throat slash, whether that’s . . . a six shooter. Using the ball as a prop is a foul, and officials are being directed to call it when they recognize it.”

It’s unclear why the officials didn’t recognize Bailey using the ball as a prop. Then again, it’s still unclear why the back judge in the Lions-Seahawks game didn’t recognize the illegal bat that occurred right in front of him.

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NFL fines Xavier Rhodes $17,363 for a horse collar tackle

Mike Evans, Xavier Rhodes AP

Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes is lighter in the wallet after committing a horse collar tackle on Sunday.

Rhodes was fined $17,363 for the foul, the NFL has confirmed.

On the NFL fine schedule, horse collar tackles are considered in the second-tier of seriousness, along with roughing the passer and leg whips, all of which result in a $17,363 fine for a first offense. Less serious infractions like facemasking and chop blocks result in fines of $8,681, while more serious offenses like spearing, hitting a defenseless player and blindside blocks result in a fine of $23,152. Fines typically double for a second offense.

Rhodes also cost the Vikings 15 yards for the penalty, which he committed while tackling Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

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Report: Sean Richardson out for season with neck injury

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 18:  Sean Richardson #28 of the Green Bay Packers reacts after the Packers intercept a pass in the second quarter against the Seattle Seahawks during the 2015 NFC Championship game at CenturyLink Field on January 18, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

Packers safety Sean Richardson missed a lot of time after having fusion surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck during the 2012 season and he reportedly suffered the same injury.

Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Richardson will not play again this season and that his career may be at risk. Richardson missed the first 10 weeks of the 2013 season while recovering from the first neck surgery, but played down the stretch that year and saw action in all 16 games last season.

Richardson practiced on Wednesday and was listed as a limited participant in Thursday’s session. Per Silverstein, he began experiencing pain on Thursday and went for an MRI.

The Packers have a lot of recent history with neck injuries bringing careers to a premature end. Tight end Jermichael Finley, safety Nick Collins and running back Johnathan Franklin all saw their playing days end after similar injuries.

Green Bay has only ruled Richardson out for this week at this point. They’re also expected to be without safety Morgan Burnett, who is listed as questionable with a calf injury, when they face the Rams.

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Saints left tackle Terron Armstead out, Andrus Peat to start

Terron Armstead, Brett Ingalls AP

If the Saints are going to double their win total for the season, they’re going to have to do it with a rookie at left tackle.

Terron Armstead is listed as out for Sunday’s game against the Eagles with a knee injury picked up last week.

That leaves Drew Brees‘ blind side and recently sore shoulder in the hands of first-rounder Andrus Peat, who failed to win a starting job from either Armstead or Zach Strife in the preseason.

Guard Jahri Evans is listed as questionable, but worked on a limited basis Friday.

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Vernon Davis will miss another game

San Francisco 49ers v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

The 49ers announced Friday that tight end Vernon Davis will miss a second straight game Sunday due to a knee injury.

Davis had been able to participate in practice on a limited basis earlier in the week, but he’s been ruled out for Sunday night’s game at the Giants. Garrett Celek was the primary tight end target with Davis out last week.

The team listed linebacker Ahmad Brooks as doubtful. His absence from practice this week has been listed as family leave following the death of his sister.

Aaron Lynch and Corey Lemonier will start at outside linebacker.

Starting tackle Joe Staley (knee) and backup wide receiver Quinton Patton (concussion) are listed as questionable.

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Marshawn Lynch to miss second straight game

Marshawn Lynch AP

Marshawn Lynch returned to practice for the Seahawks on Thursday, but his hamstring isn’t ready for him to return to game action when they face the Bengals on Sunday.

The Seahawks have ruled Lynch out for the second straight week, the first time that’s ever happened during his time in Seattle. Thomas Rawls ran 17 times for 48 yards against the Lions last Monday and may be in for an even heavier workload this weekend.

Fred Jackson is listed as questionable with an ankle injury that has kept him out of practice for the last two days. The Seahawks had not completed Friday’s practice before releasing their injury report, so there’s no word on whether Jackson was able to do something during the final session of the week. Rawls is the only other running back on the 53-man roster with Rod Smith available from the practice squad if the Seahawks make a roster move.

Cornerbacks Tharold Simon and Marcus Burley are also out for Seattle while cornerback Tye Smith, defensive end Demarcus Dobbs and linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis are all doubtful.

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Julio Jones questionable, but expected to play against Washington

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The Falcons might list Julio Jones as questionable, but there’s no indication the Falcons are going to have to put their 4-0 record on the line without him.

According to Vaughn McClure of, Jones went through drills Friday and gave no indication he wouldn’t be able to go against Washington.

He’s been limited this week with toe and hamstring issues, though they don’t think it’s serious or related to previous issues.

The Falcons are also getting rookie running back Tevin Coleman back after a rib injury in Week Two, though it’s unclear how often he’ll get the ball behind Devonta Freeman, who leads the NFL with seven touchdowns.

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Josh Norman fined $8,681 for TD celebration

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 27:  Josh Norman #24 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after defeating the New Orleans Saints 27-22 at Bank of America Stadium on September 27, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

Panthers cornerback Josh Norman didn’t expect to draw a penalty flag for riding the football like a horse after returning an interception for a touchdown last Sunday, but he should have been expecting a fine from the league once he did.

Norman got that fine, which Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer reports is for $8,681. Norman said that he spoke to Hall of Fame linebacker and NFL/NFLPA fine appeal officer Derrick Brooks about the celebration before kickoff and that Brooks said Norman “was fine.”

That may help him if he tries to appeal, unless a Three’s Company-style misunderstanding resulted from Brooks telling Norman that he would be fined. It was still a good week for Norman, who followed up his NFC defensive player of the month honors for September by being named the conference’s top defender of the week.

Person reports that defensive end Ryan Delaire was fined $8,681 as well for a late hit on Buccaneers running back Doug Martin during the Panthers victory.

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Expensive week for Jerry Hughes

Jerry Hughes AP

Not much went right for the Bills last Sunday vs. the Giants.

The expensive aftermath for Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes includes fines totaling more than $30,000.

Per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Hughes was fined $8,681 for unnecessary roughness and $23,152 for using abusive language towards an official. Fines stemming from the previous Sunday are generally delivered to players at the end of the week.

Hughes is a second-time offender on the abusive language front. He was fined $22,050 last November for a similar offense.

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Brian Hoyer back in the saddle for Texans

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 08:  Brian Hoyer #7 of the Houston Texans reacts after throwing a touchdown pass to end the second quarter of play against the Indianapolis Colts at NRG Stadium on October 8, 2015 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

It didn’t happen in a room closed to all but Hard Knocks cameras this time, but Texans coach Bill O’Brien has again named Brian Hoyer the starting quarterback in Houston.

Hoyer relieved Ryan Mallett on Thursday night after Mallett came out of the game following a hit to the chest and piloted the Texans the rest of the way in the 27-20 loss to the Colts. Hoyer was 24-of-31 for 312 yards, two touchdowns to rookie Jaelen Strong and an ugly interception on the team’s final offensive play, which was enough for O’Brien to put him back in the starting lineup against Jacksonville.

“We are moving on to Jacksonville. Brian Hoyer will start the game and we will go from there,” O’Brien said.

The Texans have played both of their quarterbacks in three of their first five games this season, which suggests that this may not be the last change we see in 2015. Hoyer’s play on Thursday night was the best work either has turned in during any of those appearances, which probably made for an easy short-term decision for O’Brien.

All of the shuffling means the long-term problem remains for Houston and an answer isn’t likely to come until the offseason.

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Chuck Pagano becomes a master of hyperbole

Chuck Pagano AP

Hyperbole is a fact of life in football, and one coach has become the all-time greatest master of it in the history of the universe, known and unknown. (Sorry, when in Rome.)

Here’s what Colts coach Chuck Pagano had to say about quarterback Matthew Hasselbeck after Thursday night’s win over the Texans: “He was literally on his deathbed Monday and Tuesday and mustered up enough to come in on Wednesday and practice.”

Yes, it’s a figure of speech. And, no, literally apparently no longer literally means literally. Still, it seems a bit much to suggest that Hasselbeck pulled a Lazarus and not only rejoined the realm of the living but also quarterbacked an NFL team to a prime-time win.

It’s not the first time that Pagano has gone a little far with his choice of words, apart from the whole “supremely confident” and “absolutely confident” fiasco of a week ago. Asked last Friday whether injured quarterback Andrew Luck is even in the state of Indiana, Pagano said, “That might be the craziest question that I’ve gotten in the history of football.”

It wasn’t all that crazy, given that Luck wasn’t spotted at practice on Friday after being seen there on Wednesday and Thursday. The Colts had been sending out mixed signals about Luck’s condition all week, and it was reasonable to wonder whether he was getting some sort of exotic treatment in New York or Mexico or wherever when he wasn’t present on Friday.

Regardless, the pressure of coaching for his job seems to be getting to Pagano, literally and figuratively and in any other way possible.

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Sean Lee cleared to return after last week’s concussion

Minnesota Vikings v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

As rapidly as they’ve lost offensive pieces, the Cowboys are getting defenders back this week.

According to Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee has been cleared by the independent neurologist after last week’s concussion, and will play Sunday against the Patriots.

He left last week’s loss to the Saints in the first quarter, and was just the latest in a long line of injuries for Lee, who was coming back from last year’s torn ACL.

“It’s brutal,” Lee said. “It’s something that I’ve done too much. I need to be on the field more. I’ve found my way off the field too consistently and it’s something that eats at you. At the same point, you have to move on from it and that’s in the past.

“You can’t allow that to affect weeks coming forward and especially this week. So, it’s frustrating at the time, but you have to move on. And I’m healthy to go and excited to play.”

You can’t lump a brain injury in with knees and feet and other body parts, so this shouldn’t further the perception that Lee’s injury prone.

The Cowboys are also getting defensive end Greg Hardy and linebacker Rolando McClain back from suspensions, so they’re getting closer to full strength at a time they’ll need to be.

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Haloti Ngata will miss game with Cardinals

Haloti Ngata, Teddy Bridgewater AP

Tyrunn Walker and Haloti Ngata were the starting defensive tackles for the Lions against the Seahawks last Monday night.

Neither of them will be on the field when the Cardinals visit Ford Field on Sunday. Walker is out for the season with a broken leg and Ngata will be out this week as well. Ngata hurt his calf in the loss to Seattle and missed practice this week.

The Lions prepared for this possibility by signing Andre Fluellen and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen this week. Ngata is confident the newcomers, Caraun Reid, Gabe Walker and Jermelle Cudjo can hold the Cardinals in check.

“Man, those guys are going to do great,” Ngata said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “Those young guys. Caraun, Gabe, we brought in Flu. Cudjo. They’ve been practicing real hard this week and they’re going to do a lot of good things. I think they’re going to surprise some people.”

Ngata declined to speculate on his chances of returning in Week Six, calling himself “day-to-day” as he looks toward Week Six.

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Ravens list Gillmore out, Smith as doubtful

Crockett Gillmore AP

The Ravens will play without starting tight end Crockett Gillmore for the second consecutive week Sunday.

The team’s final injury report of the week listed Gillmore (calf), defensive end Chris Canty (calf) and wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee) as out. Top wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. has not practiced this week due to broken bones in his back and is listed as doubtful.

The team called Smith “week to week” earlier in the week. The doubtful designation is interesting because Smith figures to press trainers and coaches to be allowed to play all the way up until the Sunday morning active roster deadline.

Exactly who will be catching Joe Flacco’s passes Sunday is the Ravens’ No. 1 question this week. Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown figure as the starting receivers and rookie Maxx Williams should again start at tight end. Williams, who’s just 21, was a second-round pick last spring.

Ravens starting left tackle Eugene Monroe is listed as probable. He’s missed the last three games due to a concussion.

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Ty Sambrailo will miss another game

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 13:  Ronnie Hillman #23 of the Denver Broncos takes a handoff from Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos and follows the block of Ty Sambrailo #74 of the Denver Broncos against the Baltimore Ravens at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 13, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Ravens 19-13.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Broncos will try to move to 5-0 against the Raiders this weekend without left tackle Ty Sambrailo.

Coach Gary Kubiak announced Friday that Sambrailo, who took over the starting job when Ryan Clady was lost for the season, will miss his second straight game with a shoulder injury.

The Broncos used Ryan Harris at left tackle and Michael Schofield at right tackle last weekend, but Kubiak said, via Mike Klis of 9News in Denver, that Tyler Polumbus will also get some work on Sunday. Harris has been limited in practice this week because of a knee issue.

Polumbus isn’t the only reserve lineman that Kubiak expects to see time against Oakland. Left guard Evan Mathis is questionable because of a hamstring injury and Kubiak said Max Garcia will rotate into the game as well.

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Baylor’s RG3 statue vandalized, apparently by TCU fans

Robert Griffin III AP

The statue of Robert Griffin III on the campus of Baylor was vandalized this week.

Griffin, who won the Heisman Trophy at Baylor in 2011, was immortalized with a sculpture on the campus this year. But that sculpture was defaced with purple paint, apparently by fans of rival TCU.

After the RG3 statue was vandalized, someone got revenge by vandalizing the TCU campus, using green spray paint to deface a wall with “61-58,” the score of Baylor’s victory over TCU last year.

The athletic directors of both schools have released statements saying they will work together to find the perpetrators of the vandalism, and that fans of both teams should show their support in appropriate, respectful ways.

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Matthew Stafford fined for wearing blue shoes

Matthew Stafford AP

The NFL’s uniform police have come down hard on Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford for having the temerity to wear blue shoes.

Stafford was fined $5,787 for wearing blue shoes on Monday night against the Seahawks, Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News reports.

Although other Lions wore black and white shoes (with some pink thrown in for the NFL’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaign), Stafford decided to wear all blue. But he says he doesn’t see what the problem was: Stafford said he wore the shoes in the preseason, but this was the first time he ever heard anything about the shoes running afoul of the league’s rules.

Stafford plans to appeal the fine. He says he’s already packed the blue shoes in his game bag for Sunday against the Cardinals.

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Giants won’t have Devon Kennard Sunday

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 13:   Devon Kennard #59 of the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium on September 13, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

Linebacker Devon Kennard had a big game for the Giants against the Bills last weekend, but he won’t be able to follow it up against the 49ers this Sunday night.

Kennard will not play because of the hamstring injury that kept him from practicing with the team this week. Kennard made a great play to pick off Tyrod Taylor and set up a Giants score early in last Sunday’s game and also broke up two other passes in a performance that highlighted his status as the most athletic member of the team’s linebacking corps.

The 2014 fifth-round pick won’t be the only member of the Giants defense missing on Sunday. Defensive ends Robert Ayers and George Selvie have also been ruled out. That makes three straight weeks without Ayers, who is suffering from a hamstring injury, and it will be the first game Selvie has missed this season.

That leaves the Giants thinner than they’d like in the front seven, although they can take some solace from the lack of any signs that the 49ers offense is equipped to take advantage.

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Cam Newton’s not the only one too young for Ed Hochuli calls

Ed Hochuli AP

Because the league was quick to go into full Frank Drebin denial mode, and because we’ve moved onto other things since then, the controversy over what veteran referee Ed Hochuli did or did not say to Cam Newton has largely gone away.

In most places, anyway.

According to Albert Breer of the NFL Network, Newton and the Panthers aren’t the only ones upset that Hochuli might have different standards for different quarterbacks because of age.

Another team with a “young franchise quarterback” also had a similar experience with Hochuli, according to Breer’s report. That team’s quarterback was told he was too young to get borderline calls, which meshes with Newton saying Hochuli told him he was “not old enough” two weeks ago.

Perhaps Hochuli says some of these things in jest to players, and has enough of a relationship with some that it could be construed as good-natured ribbing. But even a cursory look at the video of Hochuli’s interaction with Newton undermines the notion he was kidding, as Hochuli was stone-faced when Newton reacted visibly.

Whether or not Hochuli’s just an out-of-touch old guy trying to make jokes with the youngsters, someone needs to look around the rug to see if any other quarterbacks who lack AARP cards have been swept under there.

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