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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The joke running through Jacksonville these days carries the same punch line as the one in Kansas City: “Our team is so bad it can’t even stink in the right year.” The Chiefs and Jaguars will vie for the top pick in the NFL draft in separate games Sunday. But the value of “winning” the race to the NFL’s worst record is debatable in a year without a clear, franchise-changing prospect. There’s no Andrew Luck in this unlucky draft. No Robert Griffin III, either.
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings had four players voted into the Pro Bowl on Wednesday. Adrian Peterson was selected for the fifth time. It comes as no surprise thanks to an incredible comeback season. Peterson is 102 yards away from becoming the sixth running back in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. Kicker Blair Walsh, defensive end Jared Allen and fullback Jerome Felton also were named to the NFC team. Walsh set an NFL record this season with nine field goals of at least 50 yards.
MINNEAPOLIS — James Harden scored 17 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter, and the Houston Rockets rallied to win their fifth straight, 87-84 over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night. Harden’s drive to the basket gave Houston (16-12) an 85-84 lead with 39 seconds left. He drove again to make it a three-point lead with 11.7 seconds to go and scored 15 of the Rockets’ final 17 points. Omer Asik added nine points and 17 rebounds for the Rockets, who edged the Wolves after beating their previous three opponents by at least 22 points.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. holiday sales so far this year have been the weakest since 2008, when the nation was in a deep recession. That puts pressure on stores that now hope for a post-Christmas burst of spending. This year's holiday season was marred by bad weather and uncertainty about the economy in the face of possible tax hikes and spending cuts early next year. Some analysts say the massacre of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., earlier this month may also have chipped away at shoppers' enthusiasm.
APPLE VALLEY, Minn. - The 20 tiny butterfly larvae being cared for by a Minnesota Zoo biologist could represent the last hope for a species that used to be ubiquitous across the state's prairies. The Poweshiek Skipperling used to flit and float above more than 2 million acres, but for reasons that aren't entirely clear they've virtually disappeared, according to a report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press ( http://bit.ly/YJiyWt ).
MOBILE, Ala. (AP) -- An enormous storm system that dumped snow and sleet on the nation's midsection and unleashed damaging tornadoes around the Deep South began punching its way toward the Northeast on Wednesday, slowing holiday travel. Post-Christmas travelers braced for flight delays and a raft of weather warnings for drivers, a day after rare winter twisters damaged buildings in Louisiana and Alabama.
HONOLULU (AP) -- With a yearend deadline looming before the economy goes over the so-called fiscal cliff, President Barack Obama is cutting short his traditional Christmas holiday in Hawaii, planning to leave for Washington on Wednesday evening. Obama was expected to arrive in Washington early Thursday, the White House said late Tuesday. First lady Michelle Obama and the couple's two daughters are scheduled to remain in Hawaii until Jan. 6.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — One year ago, Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier approached the postgame news conference and was ready to bask in the glory of a pre-Christmas victory that snapped a six-game losing streak, even though star running back Adrian Peterson’s career was in doubt following a major knee injury. That was then.
WASHINGTON — New taxes are coming Jan. 1 to help finance President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Most people may not notice. But they will pay attention if Congress decides to start taxing employer-sponsored health insurance, one of the options in play if lawmakers can ever agree on a budget deal to reduce federal deficits.
BEIRUT — Syrian rebels fully captured a northern town near the Turkish border on Tuesday after weeks of heavy fighting and attacked a regime air base in a neighboring province, activists said. The air base is in Aleppo province, where opposition fighters have already captured three other large military bases in recent months. Rebels have also laid siege to the international airport in the city of Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital, and launched an offensive on the police academy near the city.