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Dungy says Colts had red flag on Incognito

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Plenty of casual football fans are now hearing the name “Richie Incognito” for reasons unrelated to football.  Plenty of football people had known the name for years, regarding him as radioactive for reasons unrelated to football.

During last night’s edition of Football Night in America on NBC, former Patriots V.P. of player personnel and Chiefs G.M. Scott Pioli (who should be getting some credit for the talent he left for the new 9-0 regime in Kansas City) told Dan Patrick, “I didn’t want [Incognito] coming out [of college], and I don’t want him now.”

Former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy echoed that sentiment earlier in the hour on The Dan Patrick Show.  Dungy explained that, when Incognito entered the draft in 2005, the Colts had him on the “DNDC” list, which means “do not draft because of character.”

Throughout his career, Incognito has dealt with accusations of dirty play.  But plenty of players who do their jobs well and play to the whistle (and a little bit beyond) get dubbed as dirty.  For the first time in his career, Incognito has become embroiled in an off-field controversy that reveals more about his potential character than anything he ever has been accused of doing between the white lines.

Currently, Incognito is suspended for conduct detrimental to the team, he allegedly sent hostile text messages and voice messages to Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin that reportedly were “racially charged,” and there’s a chance it will get uglier before it gets any prettier.

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Geno Smith opens 8-of-8 in 2015 audition

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The Jets have reportedly already started making moves toward hiring a new coach and general manager, changes that would leave Geno Smith’s future with the organization in different hands.

He’s doing his best to leave them with a positive impression when they watch film of Week 17. Smith has opened the game 8-of-8 for 125 yards as the Jets have grabbed a 14-10 lead in Miami.

Smith hit Eric Decker for a long pass past Cortland Finnegan and then threw a touchdown pass to Chris Ivory to put the Jets back in front in the second quarter. He also hit Chris Owusu for 36 yards to set up an Owusu touchdown run in the first quarter.

Not all the tape will be good. Smith also fumbled while running with the ball in his hand in a pose that could best be described as a person trying to keep something from getting wet while wading through shallow weather. The Dolphins scored a few plays later on a Daniel Thomas touchdown run.

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Conflicting reports emerge regarding Rick Smith’s future in Houston

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‘Tis the season for conflicting NFL reports.  One of the biggest for Sunday centers on the Houston Texans.

Jason La Canfora of CBS reports that Texans G.M. Rick Smith could be shifted to a different position in the organization, with a new G.M. arriving for 2015.  John McClain of the Houston Chronicle disputes that.

“I’ve spoken to the [four] in front office I trust the most and all shot it down,” McClain said via Twitter.  One of the four was Texans vice-chairman Cal McNair.

Speculation about Smith, who arrived in 2006 after Charley Casserly resigned, isn’t surprising, given that the team has become bereft of talent at several key positions.  And the decision to keep the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft and to use it on Jadeveon Clowney currently looks like a major mistake.  But Smith also drafted J.J. Watt, which more than makes up for the possibility that Clowney will be a bust.

The wild card in Houston is coach Bill O’Brien, who has done well enough in his first year to have the ability to try to grab power and/or to get one of his guys hired.  The question is whether O’Brien would do that after only one year.

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Bucs up 10-0, screwing up the top pick in the draft

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The Buccaneers even lose when they’re winning.

Today, they’re up 10-0 on the Saints, who look kind of bored.

The Bucs have outgained New Orleans 153-31 en route to an upset in a meaningless game, at least as it pertains to this season.

But a win, coupled with a Titans loss (they’re losing 7-0 to the Colts at the moment), would drop them out of the top spot in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Both are 2-13, but the Bucs would win a tiebreaker by having a lower strength of schedule if they have the same record.

A third win, however, would drop the Bucs no lower than second in the order.

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Ravens’ fourth-down try goes bust

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Some short-yardage rushing struggles have left a sour taste early for the Ravens.

The Browns stuffed tailback Justin Forsett on a 4th-and-1 try from the Cleveland one-yard line late in the first quarter, ending a promising Baltimore drive without points. The Ravens and Browns remain scoreless early in the second quarter.

The Ravens had 1st-and-goal at the Browns’ two-yard-line, but two Bernard Pierce rushes netted just one yard. Then, a third-down pass fell incomplete.

This left Ravens coach John Harbaugh with a decision on fourth down.

The Ravens rolled the dice.

And the Browns won the gamble.

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Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray break Cowboys franchise records

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The Cowboys had their playoff berth locked up when they woke up in Washington this morning.

But they have a pair of milestones taken care of in the first quarter.

Running back DeMarco Murray topped Emmitt Smith’s franchise rushing record (he now has 1,798 yards this season).

Then wide receiver Dez Bryant broke the single-season touchdown reception record, when his second score of the day was granted after a replay reversal.

That was his 16th of the season, wiping Terrell Owens out of the record book.

Having that kind of offensive star power is the reason the Cowboys have broken out of a 8-8 rut to make the postseason, although it will also provide some future questions about how to pay the pending free agents.

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Jets could delay decision on Rex, who isn’t happy about that

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The Jets keep on doing Jets things.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reports that the Jets may not fire coach Rex Ryan until a new G.M. is hired.  Owner Woody Johnson, per Mort, wants the G.M. to make a decision on Ryan.

According to Dom Cosentino of NJ.com, Rex Ryan isn’t happy about that.

Rex is livid right now,” a person with knowledge of Ryan’s thinking told Cosentino.  “He hasn’t talked to Woody yet, but he wants to talk to him and say, ‘Fire me [bleeping] today.  Fire me whenever.  I’m not going to hang around and miss out on [another job opportunity].'”

This assumes that Rex will have another job opportunity.  Perhaps he will; a guy like Rex would make plenty of sense for a team like the Bears, Falcons, Raiders, each of who have a quarterback but who each need the kind of defensive enema Rex would provide.

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J.J. Watt has two sacks already, as Texans take early lead

J.J. Watt AP

The Texans’ playoff chances are about as big as the likelihood defensive end J.J. Watt comes away with the league MVP.

But there’s still a chance.

Watt has a pair of sacks already, and the Texans are off to a 7-3 lead over the Jaguars.

Watt now has 19.5 sacks on the season, and is as dominant as any player in the league right now. Whether that translates into MVP votes remains to be seen, but his impact is hard to understate.

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Chase Daniel looks good as Chiefs take early lead

rivers AP

Chiefs quarterback Chase Daniel passed his first test as a starter in place of the injured Alex Smith today, leading Kansas City down the field on a scoring drive the first time he got the ball.

Coach Andy Reid is playing it safe and limiting Daniel to short, easy passes, but Daniel did what he needed to do on those passes, completing 5-for-5 for 25 yards. The Chiefs’ offense covered 54 yards on 11 plays before settling for a field goal.

That gave Kansas City an early 3-0 lead in a very big game in the AFC wild card race: If the Chargers win, they’re in the playoffs. If the Chiefs win and the Texans and Ravens lose, the Chiefs are in the playoffs.

Right now, the Chiefs are winning 3-0.

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Big plays abound in Washington-Dallas game

Robert Griffin III AP

It might not have been exactly epic, but it was a better start for Washington than most are accustomed to.

Quarterback Robert Griffin III was sharp early, and just hit DeSean Jackson for a 69-yard touchdown pass for a 7-3 lead over the Cowboys.

It was their first opening drive touchdown on the first possession in 13 games.

Griffin completed his only other pass for 9 yards, so his rating is a perfect 158.3 at the moment.

The Cowboys were driving early, but Tony Romo’s attempt to throw a pick-six was dropped by Washington linebacker Keenan Robinson, and they settled for a field goal.

But then Dez Bryant responded with a 65-yard touchdown, which put the Cowboys back up 10-7.

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Giants, Jets pay tribute to NYPD on Sunday

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Thousands turned out for the funeral of New York City police officer Rafael Ramos on Saturday and the two teams that play their home games across the river from the city Ramos helped protect paid tribute to the New York Police Department on Sunday.

Jets coach Rex Ryan is wearing a NYPD hat on the sideline as the Jets take on the Dolphins in Miami and Giants coach Tom Coughlin is doing the same in New Jersey as the Giants close their season against the Eagles.

Several members of the Giants organization wore NYPD hats as they warmed up before their season finale with the Eagles, pairing them with shirts reading “Peace.” Coughlin sent the same messages last Sunday when he wore a peace sign and black ribbon on his lapel a day after Ramos and officer Wenjian Liu were shot dead in their patrol car.

[Photo via Giants punter Steve Weatherford’s Twitter account]

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Could Chase Daniel beat the Chargers?

Daniel Getty Images

Once the Chiefs unexpectedly scratched quarterback Alex Smith with a lacerated spleen, many assumed the Chargers could go ahead and punch their ticket for the postseason, since they’ll be facing Chase Daniel.

But could Chase Daniel surprise the Chargers?  Maybe.

The Chiefs gave him a three-year, $10-million contract in 2013 as a free agent.  And Daniel performed fairly well in a Week 17 loss at San Diego, completing 70 percent of his passes, protecting the ball, and generating a passer rating of 99.3.

Then there’s the Andy Reid factor.  The original Quarterback Whisperer, Reid had a history in Philly of getting the most out of whoever played quarterback.

So maybe there’s still hope for the Ravens, who need the Chargers to lose and who need to beat Connor Shaw to get to the playoffs.

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Report: Hakeem Nicks needs TD catch for $250,000 bonus

Hakeem Nicks AP

After catching no touchdowns in 56 receptions for the Giants in 2013, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has four TDs in just 35 catches for the Colts this season.

And should Nicks haul in a fifth TD in Sunday’s game at Tennessee, Nicks will have ample reason to savor the moment.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Nicks will earn a $250,000 bonus if he reaches five TD catches this season.

The Colts are locked into the No. 4 seed in the AFC. However, Nicks is not a starter for Indianapolis, and it’s possible he could see his usual playing time at the least. Per Pro Football Focus, Nicks has averaged about 38 snaps per game. He is fourth on the Colts in targets (62).

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Report: Kenny Vaccaro’s actually injured, not healthy scratch

Carolina Panthers v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

So maybe Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro isn’t a healthy scratch.

But if he isn’t, then the Saints aren’t filling out injury reports accurately.

According to Nick Underhill of the Baton Rouge Advocate, Vaccaro is actually bothered by a quad injury.

Of course, it hasn’t bothered him enough to keep him from practicing, or for him to ever be included on the team’s injury report.

I’m certain it’s a coincidence, or maybe the quad started bugging him at some point after he was benched/or maybe not.

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Protesters show up in Washington over team name

Washington

It’s been largely dormant for most of the season, but the challenge to the Washington team name has found new life on the last weekend of the regular season.

Mike Wise of the Washington Post reports from the scene that one of the largest protests against the team name has unfolded at FedEx Field.  Typically, protests occur when the team plays on the road.

It’s a processing, per Wise, roughly 75 yards in length — with a large banner opposing “racist names or imagery.”

“To the guy who didn’t have decency not to sing team’s fight song in [the] face of an 8-year-old Native American as he marched past, God help you,” Wise tweeted.

The opposition to the name bubbles up from time to time, coming close to reaching critical mass but still not making a change seem inevitable.

[Photo credit:  Mike Wise]

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Raiders not giving up on Harbaugh yet

Harbaugh Getty Images

The latest Yogi Berra/Dr. Seuss-style saying from 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh could be something like, “Nothing is done until it’s done.  And nothing is done, so nothing is done.”

Jay Glazer of FOX Sports echoes the report from Adam Schefter of ESPN that Harbaugh to Michigan is not a done deal.  Both also report that the Raiders have not given up on Harbaugh as the team’s next head coach.

Ultimately, the final decision will be influenced largely by money.  With the top of the NFL head-coaching market not growing much over the last 10 years, Harbaugh has a chance to push the bar higher.

Regardless, it will be impossible to know where Harbaugh is going next until he signs his name on the dotted line.

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