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Column: 'Not like we signed up to play tennis.'

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Column: 'Not like we signed up to play tennis.'

Super Bowl week is beginning to resemble one of those family reunions where your crazy uncle says something outrageous, but just true enough to spark a discussion worth having.

Two years ago, it was Steelers linebacker James Harrison ripping the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell for excessive fines on the violent hits that were his specialty, and generally trying to make the game too safe. ``We'll lay a pillow down where I'm going to tackle them,'' he said mockingly at one point, ``so they don't hit the ground too hard, Mr. Goodell.''

This time around, the provocateur was Bernard Pollard, the Ravens' notoriously punishing safety. Covering much of the same ground Harrison had, Pollard said he didn't think the NFL would be around in 30 years because rule changes designed to make it even safer would eventually drive away fans - if something tragic didn't hasten the game's end even sooner.

``The only thing I'm waiting for ... and, Lord, I hope it doesn't happen ... is a guy dying on the field,'' Pollard told CBSSports.com.

It may be easy to dismiss a handful of players' exaggerated views, but the notion that the NFL is in real trouble - as well as football at every level from Pop Warner up - isn't as hard a sell as it seems.

Sure, the game has never been more popular. The league is taking in nearly $10 billion annually, breaking its own record TV telecasts almost on a weekly basis, and could repeat the feat again Sunday in New Orleans, when the 49ers tee it up against the Ravens. But just a few weeks later, arguments are scheduled to begin in Philadelphia in one lawsuit brought on behalf of former players and their families contending that the league failed to warn them about the dangers of concussions and then concealed those risks even in the face of mounting evidence. And that's just one of several pending legal actions piling up outside Goodell's office door.

Yet even all those lawsuits combined may not represent the most serious threat to the NFL's existence long term.

``The plaintiffs are facing a huge uphill battle, and that's me speaking as a lawyer,'' said attorney Robert Boland, who teaches sports law at New York University's Tisch Center, and has worked previously as an agent. ``Obviously, the publicity generated by the concussion issues is big, but I don't think the same is true in terms of legal liability. This is a collectively bargained issue for the most part and while the NFL is the biggest target - it has the deepest pockets - courts are likely to take a very narrow view of what responsibility it's facing. It may well be the case where the NFL wins in the courts very quickly, then has to find a way to be sensitive to the very real dangers that exist as part of the game.

``The concussion issue is forcing people to choose sides and yet the real challenge, I think, will be holding together the coalition that made the game so popular - players, coaches, parents and fans. There's already a bar for young players to get into the game; the cost of equipment, the staffing it requires, and if the insurers get nervous and drive up the costs even further, that might be the biggest short-term threat. Nothing has shown up yet,'' Boland added, ``but anybody taking the long view has to be looking at the present and saying, `It could.' ``

President Obama tackled that issue in a recent interview with The New Republic, saying that he anticipated the less exciting pro game that guys like Harrison and Pollard envisioned as safety concerns change the way it's played. What really worried him, though, was whether those changes at the top would filter down to the lower levels of the sport soon enough.

``I'm a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I'd have to think long and hard before I let him play football,'' Obama said.

``I tend to be more worried about college players than NFL players in the sense that the NFL players have a union. They're grown men. They can make some of these decisions on their own, and most of them are well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies,'' he added. ``You read some of these stories about college players who undergo some of these same problems with concussions and so forth and then have nothing to fall back on. That's something that I'd like to see the NCAA think about.''

Don't expect action from the NCAA anytime soon, but the NFL and its players' union may not have the luxury of time. A quick sampling of comments during media day showed many players still favor the status quo, risks and all.

``That's what we all know coming into the game,'' 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith said. ``We all signed up for it. It's not like we signed up and thought we were going to play tennis, you know?''

His coach, one-time NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh, took that cavalier attitude a step further, when asked to respond to the president's remarks.

``Well, I have a 4-month-old - almost, soon-to-be 5-month-old - son, Jack Harbaugh, and if President Obama feels that way, then (there will) be a little less competition for Jack Harbaugh when he gets older,'' Harbaugh chuckled. ``That's the first thing that jumps into my mind, if other parents are thinking that way.''

Keep in mind that the NFL's nightmare scenario played out on a football field an hour from Boston only a few months ago. In a Pop Warner game between longtime rivals, five kids between the ages of 10 and 12 were concussed, all on the losing team, three in the first quarter and the last one on the final play. Not everyone is convinced there's enough time to wait for Goodell and the union to sort out the legal battles and work together to advance the safety issue.

``I think it's being taken seriously, but as far as young people starting to play, we need better and smarter instruction than ever before,'' said former Saints quarterback Archie Manning, who's enlisted his famous sons, Peyton and Eli, to help run his annual quarterbacking camp. ``We've got to bring some attention to bear right away, especially how we teach tackling and the rest of the physical components of the game.

``You only get so many chances and we've let a lot slip past. We can't afford too many more misses,'' he said finally, ``We've got to get it right.''

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.

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WR Kamar Aiken, CB Jimmy Smith among actives

WR Kamar Aiken, CB Jimmy Smith among actives

BALTIMORE – As expected, both cornerback Jimmy Smith (back) and wide receiver Kamar Aiken (thigh) were active for Sunday’s game against the Dolphins. It would be Smith’s first action since missing the previous two games, but Smith practiced all week and was expected to play. Aiken had been listed as questionable but would also be in the lineup.

For the Dolphins, wide receiver DeVante Parker (back) was also active after testing his back during warmups. Even if Parker is not 100 percent, having Parker and No. 1 wide receiver Jarvis Landry on the field should give the Dolphins’ offense more versatility.

Inactive for the Ravens were cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris, running backs Buck Allen and Lorenzo Taliaferro, offensive lineman Ryan Jensen, linebacker Kamalei Correa, guard Alex Lewis, and tight end Crockett Gillmore. 

Without Allen (non-injury issue) and Taliaferro (thigh), Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon would handle the ball-carrying duties for the Ravens. Dixon had a season-high 13 carries against the Bengals in Week 12.

Inactive for the Dolphins were cornerbacks Jordan Lucas and Xavien Howard; center Mike Pouncey, linebacker Jelani Jenkins, offensive tackle Bryce Harris, tight end Thomas Duarte, and wide receiver Rashawn Scott.

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Ravens vs. Dolphins Live Updates: Score, stats, highlights, video, analysis

Ravens vs. Dolphins Live Updates: Score, stats, highlights, video, analysis

The Baltimore Ravens host the Miami Dolphins on Sunday in a Week 13 matchup both teams need a win in order to tighten their grip on an AFC playoff spot.

The Ravens (6-5) are 3-1 since their bye week and are looking to keep pace ahead of the Steelers in Bengals in the race for the AFC North title. The AFC North is unlikely to get two temas into the NFL Playoffs, and with the Ravens holding the tiebreaker over the Steelers, a win over the Dolphins will distance themselves from the rest of the pack

But the Dolphins (7-4) have quietly won six straight games and not only hold good positioning in the AFC Wild Card picture, but are not far behind the AFC East-leading Patriots.

RELATED: NFL PLAYOFF SCENARIOS ENTERING WEEK 13

Jay Ajayi has cooled off in recent weeks following consecutive weeks with at least 200 yards rushing. But quarterback Ryan Tannehill has stepped up his game at a pivotal time. The key to victory for the Ravens will undoubtedly be how much their stellar defense can stymie Ajayi, Tannehill and the Dolphins offense, coupled with Joe Flacco controlling the game, limiting turnovers.

Expect this to be yet another close game. Eight of the Ravens' 11 games have been decided by seven points or less, which means we cna expect to see Justin Tucker called upon in the clutch. The fifth-year kicker has yet to miss a field goal attempt this season and set an NFL record in Week 12, making three field goals of at least 50 yards in the same quarter.

Trying to predict Ravens vs. Dolphins is not easy. The Ravens are three-point favorites heading into the game, but the matchup feels closer to a "pick 'em." CSN Insider Clifton brown made his prediction, and breaks down the five factors needed to do so.

Ravens vs. Dolphins kicks off at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium on CBS. But the action begins at Noon with Chris Miller and Brad Jackson on Ravens Kickoff on CSN. (Channel Finder)

CSN Mid-Atlantic is here with the latest live updates, scores, stats, highlights, videos, and analysis from Week 13 Ravens vs. Dolphins. Be sure to give us your thoughts on the game in the comment section below.

RELATED: RAVENS VS. DOLPHINS HAS PLAYOFF FEEL TO IT

Ravens vs. Dolphins Live Updates

SECOND QUARTER: Ravens 24, Dolphins 0

2:20 PM: Justin Tucker from 55 yards is basically automatic. Ravens lead 24-0 at the half.

2:19 PM: Ravens keep moving down the field. But Flacco can't ground the ball in time and Justin Tucker comes out to kick a 55-yard FG. 

2:15 PM: Ravens CB Jimmy Smith, who missed the last two weeks with a back injury, is being looked at on the sidelines after colliding with Jarvis Landry. The Ravens can illafford another injury in the secondary.

2:12 PM: Just a disasterous first half for the Dolphins, a team entering Week 13 with six straight wins. Tannehill mishandles a snap and falls on the ball way behind the line of scrimmage. But as we've seen in the past, teams have come out from the locker room with a whole new mentality against the Ravens. 

2:05 PM: This is the story of the game so far.

2:03 PM: FLACCO TO PITTA, PART DEAUX! Good guys lead 21-0

2:00 PM: Ravens convert on a key fourth down to keep the drive moving. The Dolphins have not been able to get Joe Flacco and company off the field.

1:58 PM: Ravens announce CB Tavon Young is questionable for return with a shoulder injury.

1:50 PM: This has been a textbook Ravens' first half. Controling the tempo, not bending on defense. The big question is when when they deviate from the gameplan and hang on for dear life?

1:46 PM: The Dolphins have been able to mvoe the ball, but aren't making big plays, which is resulting in their drives stalling out. Four possessions have ended in two punts, an INT and a missed FG. 

1:40 PM: A beautiful interception by Webb is confirmed but basically taken away, because on the very next play, Joe Flacco throws an INT, giving the ball back to the Dolphins.

1:38 PM: Tannehill looks to the corner of the end zone with a deep pass and it looks like Lardarius Webb comes up with a beautiful interception. Wild play. Webb looks banged up, but WOW that was pretty.

FIRST QUARTER: Ravens 14, Dolphins 0

1:35 PM: That does it for the first quarter. The Ravens pitched a first-quarter shutout for the fifth straight game. 

1:30 PM: Our first bit of in-game injury news. Kiko Alonso, the team's leading tackler, is out with a hand injury. 

1:28 PM: Dolphins player slips up on the kickoff return. That's the second time it's happened today. No bueno. 

1:24 PM: There goes that man again. Flacco to Pitta for the touchdown. That was a good drive and a great start for the Ravens. Joe Flacco is now 11-for-14 for 136 yards and two touchdown passes. That was Pitta's first touchdown of the year and the first time all season the Ravens have opened a game with back-to-back TDs.

1:22 PM: Joe Flacco continues to pick apart the Dolphins. A heavy dose of Joe Flacco. 

1:20 PM: Joe Flacco finds Dennis Pitta over the middle, and the Ravens tight end uses his legs to stretch it out for a huge game. Hold the phone. This one is coming back because of a holding penalty on Vladimir Ducasse. Fiddlesticks. 

1:18 PM: The Dolphins' first drive stalls and they settle for a field goal attempt. AND THEY MISS IT! The Ravens will take over after Franks' 48-yard miss. 

1:15 PM: Dolphins come out with a heavy dose of Jay Ajayi. The brusing back plows ahead on a series of runs, then blows up Jerraud Powers' tackle attempt for a 19-yard run. He good.

1:12 PM: Now THIS is a stat. Now, granted, it shouldn't come as a huge surprise if you've watched every Ravens game this season. They typically start fast and have to hold on tight down the stretch. It's wildly entertaining, it's just not the greatest tactic for self-preservation.

1:09 PM: Perfect start for the Ravens. Eight plays, 79 yards. Steve Smith makes a big catch, and the Flacco carved up the Dolphins' defense, compelting passes to six different receivers. Ravens finish it off with a 3-yard pass to Terrance West. 7-0, good guys. 

1:03 PM: The Dolphins won the toss and deferred. Devin Hester fields the punt and gets it out to the 23-yard line.

PREGAME:

12:55 PM: It's almost go-time. Which, means it's time to predict the final score of Ravens vs. Dolphins.

Clifton Brown: Ravens 20, Dolphins 17

Troy Machir: Dolphins 20, Ravens 19

12:40 PM: The current temperature outside M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore is a balmy 46 degrees. It's blusterly and cool, with 5-10mph winds. It's perfect football weather.

12:35 PM: Hope you are tuning in to Ravens Kickoff on CSN. If you aren't, you're missing Chris Miller and Brad Jackson wearing Christmas sweaters because it's that time of the year.

12:00 PM: Jimmy Smith and Kamar Aiken are both suiting up today. You can find the full list of inactive players right here. 

11:45 AM: Also joining me on this wonderful voyage of Ravens football is CSN's Clifton BrownBo Smolka and Brent Harris, who are anchoring our coverage at M&T Bank Stadium today. 

11:30 AM: Welcome to CSN Mid-Atlantic's live blog for Week 13 Ravens vs. Dolphins. I am your esteemed host Troy Machir. You'll want to follow me on Twitter, so you can criticize me for my #bias analysis and bad sports takes.