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Column: Could football end up killing itself?

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Column: Could football end up killing itself?

NEW ORLEANS (AP) The dustup over deer-antler spray didn't last long, which is probably just as well. No reason to ruin Ray Lewis' retirement, or the week-long spectacle of everything that is the National Football League in this party town.

On Sunday perhaps the biggest audience ever to see a Super Bowl will gather in front of televisions for parties of their own. The game has become America's unofficial national holiday, its tradition of chip eating, beer drinking and commercial watching as deeply ingrained in the country's fabric as turkey and stuffing.

We celebrate the game even as it takes a brutal toll on those who play it. Football is a hurt business, and the biggest cheers on Sunday will be for those who deliver the biggest hits.

So remember when you jump and down and holler and scream that former players, some of whom entertained us in Super Bowls past, are suffering in the worst possible ways because of the beating their brains took on the playing field.

That the NFL is finally waking up to the crisis is commendable. That it took this long is deplorable.

It's hard to comprehend, and it may be the ultimate paradox. But football itself could be the one thing that kills the NFL.

Baltimore safety Bernard Pollard suggested the other day that it just might, calling the on-field violence ``a car accident every play'' and expressing fear that one day a player might die on the field. This, from a player who was fined for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Patriots receiver Wes Welker in the AFC championship game and is considered one of the hardest hitters out there.

President Barack Obama, meanwhile, says if he had a son he would ``have to think long and hard'' about letting him play football.

And if commissioner Roger Goodell didn't get it before, he seems to get it now. In recent months, he floated the idea of eliminating kickoffs to cut down on concussions, and used much of his state of the NFL appearance Friday to talk about improving player safety.

``The No. 1 issue is: Take the head out of the game,'' Goodell said. ``I think we've seen in the last several decades that players are using their head more than they had when you go back several decades.''

It's too late for former players, some of whom suffer from debilitating brain damage caused by hits to the head. Some 3,500 of them are suing the NFL for not doing enough to protect them, including the family of star linebacker Junior Seau, who shot himself to death last May. Medical researchers who studied his brain said findings were similar to autopsies of people ``with exposure to repetitive head injuries.''

While the league celebrates its new Hall of Fame inductees and fetes former stars who can still walk and talk, it fights every inch of the way in court on fears the claims of injured players can hit owners where it hurts the most - their wallets.

If anything, the game has become more brutal since the first Super Bowl 46 years ago. The players are bigger and faster, and better equipment gives them the false confidence to go head-to-head with each other.

No sport worth playing should need neurologists on the sidelines to protect participants. But that's precisely what the NFL will have next year as it belatedly tries to contain the fallout from the concussion issue.

Count former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison among those who worry. He was fined repeatedly in his long career for helmet-to-helmet hits, and estimates he suffered 20 concussions on the field. Today he works as a television analyst and seems healthy, but said on the ``Costas Tonight'' Super Bowl special that he gets headaches from bright lights and playing golf and has some anxiety issues he believes were caused by concussions.

``I'm scared to death,'' he said. ``I have four kids, I have a beautiful wife, and I'm scared to death what may happen to me 10, 15 years from now.''

The issue was big this week as members of the 49ers and Ravens were asked repeatedly about the safety of the game they make their living from. Most players dismissed fears about their safety, saying they knew what they were in for when they signed up to play football. But, at the same time, the players' union released a survey showing eight out of 10 players don't trust team doctors.

Understandable, when they serve at the pleasure of their employers. Even more understandable if you play in San Diego, where the team doctor lost a malpractice lawsuit last summer and the Medical Board of California wants to revoke his medical license.

These are all serious issues that deserve serious attention. The game will never be totally safe, but it can be safer.

Enjoy the Super Bowl. Celebrate the unofficial national holiday.

And hope that Goodell is as serious as he claims in finding a way to keep players safer than they are today.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org orhttp://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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Ravens vs. Texans: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

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USA TODAY Sports

Ravens vs. Texans: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

The Ravens are hosting Monday Night Football for the first time since 2012, when they welcome the Houston Texans to town.

The Ravens are coming off a much needed win against the Green Bay Packers, where the defense forced five turnovers and lifted the Ravens into the sixth and final wild card spot in the AFC. 

Not only did they regain playoff positioning, the defense got their third shutout of the season.

It even earned linebacker Matthew Judon AFC Defensive Player of the Week.

The 4-6 Texans have been struggling since losing rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson. However, they did just end a three game losing streak with a 31-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals. 

The Ravens defense will be busy keeping an eye on wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins has 879 yards on the season for 9 touchdowns. The Texans are also ranked sixth in the league in rushing yards. Will they be able to keep that momentum going?

The Ravens and Texans have met nine times with the Ravens leading the series, 7-2. 

Week 12 Ravens vs. Texans Game Info:

Who: Baltimore Ravens vs. Houston Texans

What: Week 12 NFL regular season 

When: 8:30 p.m. ET, Monday, Nov. 27, 2017

Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD

TV Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: fuboTV

Radio: WBAL New Radio 1090 

Point Spread: Baltimore, -7

Over/Under: 38

Weather: 41 degrees, clear skies

BALTIMORE RAVENS 2017 REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE:

Week 1 (Sun, Sept. 10): 20-0  at Cincinnati Bengals (W)

Week 2 (Sun, Sept. 17): 24-10 vs. Cleveland Browns (W)

Week 3 (Sun, Sept. 24): 44-7 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (in London) (L)

Week 4 (Sun, Oct. 1): vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1:00 p.m. (L)

Week 5 (Sun, Oct. 8): at Oakland Raiders, 4:05 p.m. (W)

Week 6 (Sun, Oct. 15): vs Chicago Bears, 1:00 p.m. (L)

Week 7 (Sun, Oct. 22): at Minnesota Vikings, 1:00 p.m. (L)

Week 8 (Thur, Oct. 26): vs. Miami Dolphins, 8:25 p.m. (W)

Week 9 (Sun, Nov. 5): at Tennessee Titans, 1:00 p.m. (L)

Week 10 (Sun, Nov. 12): BYE week

Week 11 (Sun, Nov. 19): at Green Bay Packers, 1:00 p.m. (W)

Week 12 (Mon, Nov. 27): vs. Houston Texans, 8:30 p.m.

Week 13 (Sun, Dec. 3): vs. Detroit Lions, 1:00 p.m.

Week 14: (Sun, Dec. 10): at Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:30 p.m.

Week 15: (Sun, Dec. 17): at Cleveland Browns, 1:00 p.m.

Week 16: (Sat, Dec. 23): vs Indianapolis Colts, 4:30 p.m.

Week 17: (Sun, Dec. 31): vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 1:00 p.m

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Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis named semifinalist for Pro Football Hall of Fame 2018 class

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Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis named semifinalist for Pro Football Hall of Fame 2018 class

Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis has been named a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame 2018 class. 

Lewis, who is in his first year of eligibility, made the first set of cuts from 108 candidates to 27. 

First-year eligible players included on the semifinals list with Lewis are defensive back Ronde Barber, guard Steve Hutchinson, linebacker Brian Urlacher, wide receiver Randy Moss and defensive lineman Richard Seymour.

RELATED: THREE THINGS WE'VE LEARNED ABOUT THE RAVENS THIS SEASON

12 offensive players, 13 defensive players and two coaches made the cut. However, there are no quarterbacks on the list.

All ties for the 25th spot also advance. 

In January, members of the Hall of Fame committee will then narrow the modern-era list down to 15. Nominees must receive 80 percent "yes" votes to make the cut.

The selection committee will then meet for a final time on February 3, the day before Super Bowl LII, to select the 2018 class. 

RELATED: LEWIS CLAIMS RAVENS DIDN'T SIGN KAEPERNICK AFTER GIRLFRIEND'S TWEET

Lewis and Moss are considered shoo-ins.

Lewis played his entire 17-year career with the team after the Ravens drafted him 26th in the 1996 draft. During his 17 years, he won two Super Bowls, won Super Bowl XXXV MVP, was named to 13 Pro Bowls, a seven-time First-Team All-Pro, was a two-time Defensive Player of the year winner, won eight Defensive Player of the Week awards, played in 228 career games, made 1,336 tackles, had 41.5 sacks and 31 interceptions.

Players must be retired from the league for five years to be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.