NEW YORK -- Fourteen things you need to know on the heels of Week 14:
1. The 16-0 talk is radioactive. No one wants to touch it. It's almost like going undefeated, and talking about going undefeated, is going to turn your season to dust. Whatever happened to seeking excellence and wanting to be the best?
I'm not saying if I had a few injured guys or 34-year-old vets with bum knees I wouldn't rest them as much as I could. But I also think this: The Colts clinched homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with their 28-16 win over the Broncos Sunday, and they'll almost certainly begin the process of resting their veterans Thursday night at Jacksonville. So for some of them -- Peyton Manning, Jeff Saturday, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, to be sure -- there will be either 34 or 35 days between the last game they played in full until the first playoff game on either Jan. 16 or 17. I can see Mathis and Freeney not playing much, because they're both nicked. But I don't know how much it helps Peyton Manning to not play.
Now, former Colts coach Tony Dungy has told me it's good to practice first units versus first unit, which never happens at this point of the season normally. That's not the same to me, though, as when the real pass-rush is coming and real corners are covering. There will be plenty of time to debate (ad nauseum, I'm sure) that stuff. For now, let's examine the path that each undefeated team has to perfection (And congratulations to the Colts for two terrific achievements: setting the NFL mark for consecutive regular-season wins at 22, and for most wins in a decade at 114.):
Manning will play at least a series in all three games, to keep his starting streak alive; he's started every game of his professional career since being drafted in 1998.
Let's say the Colts play the starters one quarter Thursday. I say their streak ends then. If not then, either of the next two games could easily be losses. Nothing against Purdue rookie Curtis Painter, Manning's backup with Jim Sorgi on IR, but I can't see how a patchwork offensive line and a kid getting his first extended NFL playing time is going to make enough plays against a Rex Ryan now-you-see-it, now-you-don't defense to win.
"As a player,'' Indy tight end Dallas Clark told me, "I wouldn't want to make that call. If we play, fine. If we don't, we have to take the attitude that we'll get better by watching and studying.''
Get the books and video out, Dallas .
In New Orleans, Jonathan Vilma says his team's focus will be on winning a championship, not going 16-0, and however that could best be attempted is the way he thinks the players want to go. "It's tough,'' Vilma said. "Fans are confused. We're not trying to go for 16-0. We're trying to win a title.''
I think the Saints will win them all. They'll play their starters most, if not all, of the remaining games. They'll have two real tests -- against a Dallas team playing for its playoff life Saturday night in the Superdome, and at Carolina on Jan. 3. Never mind that John Fox might be coaching for his job. The Panthers are always a tough, grind-it-out test with the NFC's top-rated running game.
2. Bill Belichick has one of the biggest challenges of his coaching career on his hands, and how he handles it will go a long way in determining the 2009 fate of the Patriots. I detail Randy Moss' canine performance against Carolina Sunday in Goat of the Week, but suffice to say he's not playing hard and is totally useless in the lineup. So if you're Belichick, you know these things:
You have only one receiver, Wes Welker, who can get open against man coverage when Moss is a bum like this ... Your tight ends are useless as receivers ... Your screen game isn't effective because defenses know you have to use it so much that they're waiting for it constantly ... And Moss is a total head case.. So your options are to draw the hard line and bench him and play Sam Aiken opposite Welker and hope the career special-teamer strikes gold. Unlikely. Or you can baby Moss along, keep him as one of the captains, pretend he's just going through a tough stretch, and expend an incredible amount of energy making him feel like he's still your go-to guy. Clearly, Belichick's going to have to try the latter.
New England could lose at Buffalo, particularly if the Bills -- if Perry Fewell is smart -- double Welker on every snap underneath and over the top, and belt him around in the five-yard bump zone. I remember Bill Parcells preaching to the beat guys who covered the Giants (and I'm sure he beat his assistants over the heads with it in the '80s, including Belichick) that his job was to get the most out of each player, and that meant he wasn't going to treat everyone the same because everyone didn't react to coaching the same way. That's where Belichick is now with Moss.
3. You've got to like Tom Brady trying to put the pressure for the Patriots' performance down the stretch on his shoulders. "Put it on me,'' he said over the cell phone on his way home from Foxboro on Sunday evening. "That's where I want it -- on me.'' You asked for it, you got it. We talked for maybe 15 minutes, and I'd have thought he'd be exasperated by a few things -- Moss, how poorly they were playing across the board the last month, the fourth-down-conversion problems, the Adalius Thomas fiasco. But no. Brady was ridiculously optimistic. "It's like a heavyweight fight,'' he said. "A boxing match. We just gotta keep fighting. We're not the same team as we were last year or the year before, but I haven't lost faith in us at all. It's just that our margin of error is so small.'' Whereas in 2007, Brady had a couple of professional receivers, Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney, as his third and fourth wideouts after Moss and Welker, now he's got the green Aiken and Julian Edelman (who's been hurt consistently).
New England's 8-5, a game ahead of the Jets and Dolphins, with the Bills, Jags and Texans on the schedule to finish up. Not too hard, not too easy for the old Patriots, but for these Patriots, where everything comes hard? "We're 7-0 at home,'' Brady said. "We just put up 470 yards of offense against a good defense in Miami. We got the best coach in history. Shoot, once the playoffs start, if we're fortunate enough to make them, anything can happen. We were 18-0 and didn't win the Super Bowl. You never know. Don't lose faith in us.'' When I got off the phone with him, I thought: That's what he's going to say to his team this week.
4. Remember how I said last week no one's going to want to play the Chargers in January? Still true. But add one more team to that list: the Eagles. They've changed before our very eyes. Did you see on TV last night when Andy Reid got airborne -- OK, he did a little hop -- to body-bump DeSean Jackson after Jackson scored a touchdown? I'm going out on a limb here, but I believe right here, right now, is the best offensive variety Reid has had with the Eagles in his 11 years as coach. It beat the Giants 45-38 last night at the Meadowlands. Check out the game-clinching drive, with 13 minutes left, starting at the Eagles' nine-yard line:
• The 12-play drive had six runs, six passes.
• Donovan McNabb was six-for-six on the drive.
• There were eight conventional huddles, four change-of-pace no-huddles.
• Including the two-point-conversion pass, McNabb completed passes to six receivers in this one drive.
• Michael Vick was the quarterback for two of the plays. On one of them, Vick handed to LeSean McCoy, who pitched to McNabb, who scrambled and completed a short pass to tight end Brent Celek.
No T.O. No Westbrook. It's so new. It's almost like Reid got his contract extension and lost all his cares in the world and said, "We're going for it.''
Who are these guys? The Harlem Globetrotters? All I know is I like it, and it's working. They're hot, and they should win the NFC East.
5. I'd be shocked if Tom Coughlin didn't rip up his defensive staff after the season, or at least replace defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. Results-oriented business. Giants are 2-6 in their past eight. Allowed 32 points a game in those eight outings. He has to do something.
6. The Vikings imported two bruisers Sunday, and it helped crush the Bengals. Rookie middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley, making his first career start, twice stoned Bengals runners, and cornerback Antoine Winfield, back after six weeks away with a foot injury, led the Vikes with nine tackles, dropped an interception and broke up a pass. "Jasper's a hammerhead,'' said Jared Allen. "The boy can flat hit. Antoine's a beast, a playmaker. He gives the whole defense confidence.'' While the Vikings get to the bottom of why Adrian Peterson isn't playing normally -- he's rushing for three yards a clip the past two games -- they should be able to keep the score down against the Panthers, Bears and Giants if Winfield, especially, can stay on the field.
7. What? Mark Ingram as the next Emmitt? Quick scouting analysis from a veteran NFL man who has seen Heisman winner Mark Ingram several times in person over his two years at Alabama: "Has a similar style to Emmitt Smith ... Remains to be seen if he's as good. Very productive, breaks tackles, uses a stiff arm well ... Won't have off-the-chart measurables in terms of size and speed, but he's very strong through the hips and shoulders. Emmitt went 17 overall. Just a guess, but I think Ingram will go around 22.'' Ingram is a true sophomore this year, so he would not be eligible for the draft until at least April 2011, after his junior season. If he stays four years at 'Bama, he'd be coming out in the 2012 draft. Assuming there's a new CBA and there is a draft.
8. Brandon Marshall saw the best game of his life coming. He was stretching with strength and conditioning coach Rich Tuten before the game and said to him, "This is gonna be the best game of my life. I can feel it.''
The 6-4 Marshall liked his matchup against the rookie Indy cornerbacks, he liked the spotlight of playing an unbeaten team, he liked the Denver game plan that had Kyle Orton looking for him early and often, and he liked playing in a weatherproof environment in the Indianapolis dome. It turned out to be a perfect storm. Marshall caught a record 21 passes, for 200 yards and two touchdowns; the Colts zoomed to a 21-0 lead early, but staggered under the weight of Marshall's play, seeing the lead cut to 21-16 before Peyton Manning threw his fourth touchdown pass of the day.
Marshall had several little incuts and seam routes designed to simply move the chains. It's a ball-control record, really, not an explosive-play record.
"When you're trying to establish yourself as one of the great players, you know when you play the great teams, you've got to play great,'' he told me after the game, "and that's the feeling I had coming to the stadium today. These are the games that can put you into the elite class.''
It's been an interesting turnaround for Marshall, who petulantly tried to talk and act his way off the team in training camp when he felt he got misled about being traded. He wanted out. Coach Josh McDaniels wasn't going to let him go. Once he saw he wasn't going anywhere this year, Marshall decided to make the best of it, and the best has been pretty good -- 86 catches (third in the league), nine receiving touchdowns. "My love for the game took over,'' he said. "At the end of the day, I knew I just wanted to play football.''
Denver has the inside track to the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs, which could make for a fascinating wild card match for Marshall against the green Patriot corners if the Patriots continue to stumble to the AFC East title.
9. The Pack got lucky with Aaron Rodgers Sunday. As soon as Aaron Rodgers got bent back on the turf at Soldier Field Sunday, his right foot disappearing beneath him and his back bending almost Gumby-like too far back, Rodney Harrison said in the NBC viewing room, "Oh, this is bad.'' It's the kind of thing that could be a high ankle sprain, a serious foot injury, or maybe a hyperextended knee -- or worse.
"I could feel it happening,'' Rodgers said over the phone from Chicago after the 21-14 Green Bay win. "I was able to spin out of it at the last second. But that might have been bad.''
Rodgers didn't have one of his best days -- 16 of 24, 180 yards, no touchdowns or picks -- but he had the kind of day Mike McCarthy wants his quarterbacks to have. McCarthy used to stress to Brett Favre that he could have a good day by not making the big mistake. And Rodgers made only one of those Sunday, on a cold, breezy, raw day on the lake, getting strip-sacked and losing the ball on the first drive of the third quarter.
The Packers won with the kind of game they'll need to win with if they play a cold-weather road playoff game (at Philly, perhaps) in January -- with a good game from Ryan Grant and a defensive beatdown of the Bears, holding Chicago to 254 yards. The Packers would have to stumble badly to miss the playoffs now, with the Giants, Cowboys and Falcons all struggling mightily. They're fortunate that Rodgers has become a top-10 quarterback and not had the kind of painful adjustment to starting life in the NFL so many young quarterbacks do.
10. Demarcus Ware is fine, relatively speaking, after that scary collision. His agent, Pat Dye Jr., texted last night that Ware passed all his tests at a Texas hospital after his on-field collision with San Diego tackle Brandyn Dombrowski left him with a sprained neck, and he'd been released. Fortunately, Ware has feelings in all his extremities and he'll be fine. Playing? I don't know. Living's what I was worried about when I saw that one.
11. Someone throw a life preserver to Wade Phillips. For Phillips to keep his job, he's going to have to win a game (or two) he's not supposed to. Like this Saturday night's game in New Orleans, or a wild card game on the road. I don't think it's likely. So if we're looking at the tea leaves, it means Mike Shanahan and Bill Cowher will be left to duel for jobs in Washington, Dallas, Buffalo, maybe Carolina and maybe Chicago -- though I can't imagine Chicago will pay in Dan Snyder's or Jerry Jones' league if the Bears decide to make a change.
12. Ndamukong Suh is the best defensive player to come out of college football this decade. As I said on "Football Night in America'' last night, I spoke with the GMs of both one-win teams this weekend -- Billy Devaney of the Rams, Mark Dominik of the Bucs -- and there's little doubt that Suh will be at the top of the draft boards of both teams. Usually there's some doubt who the premier player in the draft will be four months out, but not this year.
"He's got to be at the top, or very near the top, of every team's draft board,'' Dominik said of Suh, the Nebraska defensive tackle who finished fourth in the Heisman race (Lord knows why). One GM of a losing team who has scouted Suh told me he has "Richard Seymour strength and Warren Sapp quickness.''
Said Dominik: "The only thing that worries me is living up to the hype. If he gets six sacks as a rookie playing defensive tackle, someone's going to call him a bust because of the high expectations. How's he going to handle that?'' Logical question ... but every top pick who ever gets picked has to deal with the weight of expectations. The book on Suh is he's a mature kid. He's just going to have to take it.
13. I owe Jerry Jones a mea culpa. Remember back in August, when Tennessee punter A.J. Trapasso hit the low-hanging video board at Jerry Jones' new stadium in Arlington? And I said afterward the punters in the NFL would use the thing for target practice, and it'd be a nightmare for the league?
Jones told me and anyone who'd listen at the time, basically, to just give the board a chance, and judge it after a season, and then we'd see if the board needed to be lifted higher. Well, Jason Baker came in, the Carolina boomer, and he didn't hit it in six tries, and their own punter, Mat McBriar (who may have known what was good for him) hasn't hit it all year, and in the last two home games, the most prolific punting legs in the country, Shane Lechler of Oakland and Mike Scifres of the Chargers, haven't hit it. Since Trapasso nailed it (and then bragged it would happen often), visiting punters have had 48 punts and McBriar 38. That's 86 punts. And nothing.
Mind-boggling but true: NFL punters have missed the video board 86 times in 86 punts. "That's a shock,'' Trapasso said Sunday night. "I thought maybe guys wouldn't hit it square, but I'm stunned it hasn't even been grazed.''
One theory: Because most teams directional-kick now and only rarely boot it high and straight into the air, punters can avoid the board by kicking to a spot. Whatever the reason, my preseason alarm bells , with one home game at the new palace to be played, were out of line.
14. Stadium blues in Minnesota. Want to know why the Minnesota Vikings have a tough fight on their hands to get a new stadium built? Politics. And one of the biggest budget deficits in the United States.
For the first time in more than 20 years in Minnesota, the governor, lieutenant governor, 134 state representatives and 67 state senators will all be up for election in the same year, 2010, without a presidential or U.S. Senate election next November. That means the focus of the entire state will be on the state, not divided between Washington and Minnesota. Those 203 politicians are in no mood to foot much of the bill for a new sporting venue.
The state has just overseen the opening this fall of the new 50,000-seat stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and the Twins' new Target Field will open downtown next April. Combined total of those two projects: $578 million. The state is projecting a $1.2-billion budget deficit next year. Add all those factors together, and you understand how tough it's going to be for the Vikings to get a new stadium anytime soon.
I don't think it'll be in 2010, which will raise the threat level of a franchise shift to Los Angele to orange. When, or if, they do build, I can tell you that people on the football side -- players, coaches -- aren't crazy about an open-air stadium. A retractable roof would add about $200 million to the cost; a fixed roof would add about $125,000. It'll be a homefield edge at this time of year, but that doesn't mean the locals used to playing inside and sitting inside for the past 28 football seasons want to go back to playing in the elements.
I was at the Vikings facility Thursday, and it was minus-1 with a wind-chill of minus-12 at 11 in the morning. As one player told me, "A whole generation of fans grew up without ever sitting outside to watch the Vikings. What's it been, 30 years? How are you going to get all those people used to being warm for a game to sit outside when it's below zero?'' Good question. But the Vikings would be happy to get any new stadium, inside or outside.
1. New Orleans (13-0). When the Saints needed big plays, it wasn't only Drew Brees who provided them. Reggie Bush did, with two TDs -- and doesn't he look angry out there when he scores? -- and Jonathan Vilma did, with a pick and a stoning tackle to end the game. It's a deep team.
2. Indianapolis (13-0). Entering a short week, the Colts are going to disappoint fans who flip on the TV Thursday night. Around 8:50 p.m., it ought to be the Curtis Painter show at Jacksonville, when Manning and Jeff Saturday and the vets who need time off start to get it.
3. Minnesota (11-2). Stat I like about the Vikes' passing game: Through 13 games, Minnesota has six players between 36 and 67 catches. Last year, through 16 weeks, the Vikes had four players with 36 catches or more.
4. San Diego (10-3). Chargers are 5-0 on the road during their eight-game winning streak. In another year, they'd be first or second in the Fine Fifteen right now.
5. Arizona (8-4). The running game has actually become competent. Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower, combined, are averaging a quite respectable 4.4 yards a carry entering the game that could clinch the NFC West title for the Cards tonight.
6. Philadelphia (9-4). Thirty points in 30 first-half minutes against the Giants in game one this year in November, and 30 points in 30 first-half minutes at the Meadowlands Sunday night. Good to see the Eagles finally getting some mileage out of Michael Vick.
7. Green Bay (9-4). I'll be stunned if the Packers don't cop the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs.
8. Cincinnati (9-4). Bengals got what they deserved at the Metrodome, playing without the inside push of defensive tackle Domata Peko. But it's not a disastrous loss, more a predictable one.
9. Denver (8-5). The game at Indy looked to be over 25 minutes in, but the Broncos hung in there and took something good out of the day at the dome.
10. Dallas (8-5). I know it's not fashionable to say anything nice about the Cowboys in December, but I don't believe their season's over yet. Sorry.
11. Baltimore (7-6). Slaughtering Detroit ... meh. But Ray Rice is emerging as a top-10 back. His 219 yards on 17 touches for an average of 12.9 yards per touch -- that's great stuff against any foe.
12. New England (8-5). "This is the flattest game I've ever done,'' Tony Siragusa said from the field on the FOX telecast of Panthers-Pats. Another failed fourth-down call, Randy Moss looking like he wished he was anywhere but there, no tight end getting open, Steve Smith whipping corners ... I know there are no ugly wins, but this win was exceedingly unattractive. I'll say this: It's a good thing the Patriots have Tom Brady -- even in a season where he's been mortal half the time -- or their season would be over this morning.
13. Miami (7-6). Sunday in Nashville will be a playoff game for the Fins.
14. Tennessee (6-7). The hammy injury to Vince Young marred the uncompetitive win over the Rams.
15. New York Jets (7-6). Strangest, streakiest season in a long time. Won three, lost three, won one, lost three, won three. Here's something for you statniks: Has a team ever made the playoffs with two separate three-game losing streaks?
"I would turn in all three Super Bowl rings and my Hall of Fame bust for one undefeated season.''-- Michael Irvin, on NFL Network's Sunday morning pregame show.
My one question for you, Mike: Have you lost your mind?
"I'm not worried. His useless banter really doesn't amount to much at all.''-- Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis, on whether the rants and public wailings of wide receiver Chad Ochocinco concern him.
"I don't see the big deal about it. The president cheated on his wife. We're all human. Human beings are the only ones that have just one partner. You watch National Geographic and the lions, they have like five or six partners. The human race is the only being that is monogamous with partners.''-- The wisdom of Seattle wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh, to seattlepi.com, the Web site of the former Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, commenting on the barrage of negative publicity for Tiger Woods.
"I'd throw it to Nicks again. He's due.''--@NJ_StevePoliti, Steve Politi, columnist of the Star Ledger in New Jersey, Sunday at 9:12 p.m., after Hakeem Nicks dropped a walk-in touchdown pass from Eli Manning.
Two minutes after this post, Manning threw deep again to Nicks, and he caught it, and sprinted in for a touchdown, leading to this post by Politi at 9:18: "Just to be clear, I cannot use my power for personal gain.''
Offensive Player of the Week
DeSean Jackson, WR/PR, Philadelphia.
He's 95 percent as electric as Devin Hester was two years ago, and he's much better from scrimmage. He came off his concussion two weeks ago to have a huge impact on the Eagles' 45-38 victory over the Giants Sunday night, returning a punt 72 yards for a second-quarter touchdown, tiptoeing along the sideline for 20 yards of it, and catching and running 60 yards with a Donovan McNabb pass for another touchdown reception. Jackson, a second-round pick from Cal in 2008, is tied for the NFL record with eight touchdowns of 50 yards or more this year. For the game, Jackson had eight touches for 261 yards, including six catches for 178 yards.
Defensive Player of the Week
Brian Orakpo, OLB, Washington.
Who'd have thought Orakpo would have rushed the pass more productively in the first 13 games of his rookie year than Demarcus Ware, Julius Peppers and LaMarr Woodley? By the measure of sacks, he has. His four-sack day at Oakland (sacks for losses of nine, nine, nine and 10 yards) gave him 11 for the year.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Brian Moorman, P, Buffalo.
Moorman punted four times for a 53-yard average -- with not a single return yard -- at Kansas City, with these exact results: a 46-yard punt to the Kansas City 10, a 52-yard punt to the Kansas City 9, a 73-yard punt to the Kansas City 7, and a 41-yard punt to the Kansas City 27 (the slacker!). The Bills-Chiefs game was totally invisible to the masses Sunday (rightfully so), and I don't want to let a superior performance get lost because of the meaninglessness of the game.
Coaches of the Week
Eric Mangini and Rob Ryan, coach and defensive coordinator, Cleveland.
The Arctic weather (minus-5 wind chill) helped in a 13-6 beatdown of the Steelers, certainly, because the Steeler receivers were neutralized by the deep freeze and the slippery field. But give lots of credit to Mangini, who has steadfastly maintained he is building a program, cleaning up the salary cap and adding draft choices for future Browns teams he plans to build in his image. (Whether he gets to do that, time will tell, but this game did help his Cleveland longevity.)
The Cleveland team Mangini put on the field Thursday was a battling, hustling, never-say-die group that wanted to win about five times more than did the defending Super Bowl champs. Ryan choreographed an aggressive and schematically imaginative game plan that had corners, tackles and linebackers rushing from all over the map, like one of those classic Ravens' jail-break defenses his brother Rex made famous. Rob Ryan showed he knew the way to get to a plodding quarterback was to send rushers from different slots on almost every passing down, and it resulted in an eight-sack game ... and holding the Steelers to a measly 3.5 yards per play, Pittsburgh's lowest in the last 25 games.
Goat of the Week
Randy Moss, WR, New England.
A dog performance by one of my all-decade wide receivers, I'm ashamed to report. In fact, I'm very close to wishing I gave that spot to Torry Holt now. In the wake of being sent home after showing up late for a Wednesday meeting, Moss had a bad day in the 20-10 win over Carolina. He had one catch (which he fumbled), one bad drop, one alligator-arm incompletion and one poor effort that resulted in a Carolina interception.
In the third series of a scoreless game, right in front of the New England bench, Moss stopped short on a sideline pattern, and instead of at least breaking it up, he allowed Carolina cornerback Chris Gamble the chance to intercept the ball, and Gamble did. On the next series, he caught a short throw from Brady over the middle and immediately had the ball popped out by Gamble. On the sidelines at one point, Brady went to him and looked like he was trying to pump up Moss, and Moss sat there, lifeless. It's almost like the guy had the air popped from his balloon. There's nothing there. It goes back to failing to try to break up the end zone interception by Miami cornerback Vontae Davis in the end zone last week.
Moss looks totally disinterested. He's a captain. Despite Moss' tardiness Wednesday, Bill Belichick let him go out with the captains for the pre-game coin toss. I'm not sure how I'd handle this if I were Belichick; he's in a fairly impossible situation. But there's no question Moss isn't the guts-out player he's been for much of his three-year Patriots career anymore.
Ndamukong Suh, at 6-foot-4 and 302 pounds, is an amazing specimen, a player with the quickness to interior-rush and the strength to play the nose. His ability to make disruptive plays is precedent-setting. I call "disruptive plays'' the combination of sacks, other tackles for loss, quarterback hits, forced fumbles, interceptions, passes broken up and blocked kicks. In the last two years, covering 26 games, he's had an extraordinary 114 of these disruptive plays. Breaking them down:
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis. Nine picks in his last five games. But Manning stays in this spot because you're going to have picks with new receivers (Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon), and the Colts are 13-0, and Manning's getting the least help from his running game of the three main dudes. Colts running game is 28th, Saints fifth and Vikes 10th.
2. Brett Favre, QB, Minnesota. Leads all quarterbacks with a plus-21 TD-to-pick differential. Have you heard he's started to carry his AARP card?
3. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. I know Peyton Manning is one percentage point more accurate (70.0 to 69.1 percent), but I don't believe I've seen a passer have a more accurate season, as deep as Brees throws the ball.
4. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego. In the eight-game streak, he's won at three very tough places to win -- East Rutherford, Denver and Dallas.
5. Charles Woodson, CB, Green Bay. There are a few candidates for the Defensive Player of the Year, but I think Woodson's body of work -- he got his eighth interception Sunday at Chicago, and he has two sacks, four forced fumbles and 14 passes broken up -- is the best of all defensive players right now. And I emphasize "right now.''
The Chargers' director of player personnel in 1998 was Billy Devaney, and he was part of the group that scouted and drafted the ill-fated Ryan Leaf number two overall for San Diego.
Devaney is now the general manager of the Rams. Last spring he drafted quarterback Keith Null from West Texas A&M in the sixth round. Because of injuries to Marc Bulger and Kyle Boller, Null started his first NFL game Sunday at Tennessee.
Null's position coach at West Texas A&M: Ryan Leaf.
Last spring, Devaney, who will be forever linked with Leaf, left the disastrously failed quarterback a voice message saying, "You did a great job with Keith Null.''
Null probably wishes he could void his first NFL start. Five interceptions, lots of 10-inch-gain dump-offs.
Aaaah, Manhattan at the holidays. Though crowded, it is beautiful here. And fragrant. On Sunday morning, as I puttered away at this column and made and received a few Ndamukong Suh-related phone calls at a midtown Starbucks, a disheveled man with some OCD tendencies (continually straightening his straggly hair, checking his watch every half-minute) sat down next to me. He took off his parka, then a lighter coat underneath it, and then pulled a deodorant stick from the pocket of the parka, uncapped it, and put it underneath his shirt, applying it to first his left underarm and then his right.
Well, hello neighbor.
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Week 14:
a. Vikings Quiz: What's the name of the twin brother of Minnesota rookie MLB Jasper Brinkley? Answer below.
b. Now that the games mean nothing, here come the Texans. Again.
c. Worst records in football since the start of the 2007 season: Rams 6-39, Lions 9-36, Chiefs 9-36. Six wins for the Rams! Three wins in 2007, two in '08, one this year. Yikes.
d. Best records in football since the start of 2007: Colts 38-7, Patriots 35-10.
e. Interesting tidbit from respected St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz: "I would not be surprised, at all, to see the Rams make a play for Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick after the season.'' I agree.
f. Also would not be surprised to see the Rams make a very quiet inquiry about Donovan McNabb after the season either. Not saying the Eagles would make such a deal (two second-rounders and a four for McNabb?), but Kevin Kolb will be a fourth-year player, and Philly's not going to be able to keep him until McNabb retires.
g. Chris Redman did a lot for his future yesterday. He threw a beautiful, in-stride downfield TD bomb to Michael Jenkins and generally looked in command against the unbeaten Saints.
h. My Sirius partner, Randy Cross, on the $65,000 in fines Chad Ochocinco has accumulated this year for his pranky stuff: "Wouldn't it be smart if he took $30,000 and, oh, I don't know, bought winter coats for 1,000 kids in Cincinnati? Can't he find a better use for that money than continue to hand it to the league?''
i. No cornerback tandem is playing better right now than Cincinnati's Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph.
j. No receiving corps is playing better than New Orleans,' but San Diego's is very close.
k. Seahawks. Frauds.
l. Vikings Quiz answer: Casper.
2. I think you can call Chad Ochocinco many things, but a coward is not one of them.
3. I think this is what doomed the Steelers this year: a poor offensive line (aided by some poor pocket decisions by Ben Roethlisberger), the inability to ever establish the run the way classic Steeler teams of this era did, and lousy defensive depth.
I tweeted the other night that when the epitaph on this Steelers season is written, it will say the offensive line failed Roethlisberger. Now, Roethlisberger needs to go to the Peyton Manning school of avoiding sacks (Manning could teach a class in it and become a rich man), because the other night instead of throwing the ball away, Roethlisberger got into the fetal position far too often and just took the sack. But what amazed me is how ill-prepared Pittsburgh's offense line was against the kind of zone-blitzes they must see every day in practice. Disgraceful.
4. I think the Heisman Trust, or the Downtown Athletic Club, or whoever is in charge of awarding the Heisman Trophy every year, ought to rename it the Heisman Offensive Player Trophy.
5. I think, not to be a wiseguy, you can't be serious about the voting this year. In a year when there's no clear-cut dominant offensive player, and the voting is fragmented among several skill-position guys, Nebraska defensive tackle Suh finishes his college career as probably the best defensive player of this decade in college football. He gets 19 percent of the first-place votes and finishes a distant fourth.
The Heisman has been awarded 75 times, all to players who touched the ball, with one asterisk. Charles Woodson won it in 1997 as a corner/wideout/kick-returner; he was primarily a defensive player. But the only way he won it is because he had the versatile-player tag -- not because he was a superior cornerback. If Suh isn't going to win it, or even strongly contend, after making 35 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and knocking down the quarterback another 24 times, why continue the charade of saying the Heisman is awarded to the best player in college football. It's just not.
6. I think this is what I liked about Week 14:
a. Brad Smith looked like the Missouri quarterback he used to be and not the Jets special-teamer he is now. More wildcat, Brian Schottenheimer.
b. Peyton Manning in the red zone, career, thanks to CBS (great graphic): 225 touchdowns, 23 interceptions.
c. Loved Keith Bulluck's back-to-the-future game against the unfortunate Keith Null: 10 tackles, two interceptions, a pass broken up. The Titans' D played with a ferocity a defense can play with when it knows the quarterback can't beat it downfield.
d. A 65 percent passing day by Joe Flacco and 548 total yards. Good. Do it again next week, and we'll know you've got the offense fixed, Ravens.
e. The kind of balance that will make Mike McCarthy happy: 146 rushing yards, 169 passing yards. Now he just wants more of each.
f. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews makes two significant plays a game.
g. Speaking of first-round rookies, there's a heck of a race for defensive rookie of the year. Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd leads the league with nine interceptions, and Houston LB Brian Cushing had another monster game: 10 tackles, a sack, two other tackles for loss, three QB pressures. Matthews. James Laurinaitis of the Rams. Pretty tough call.
h. Ricky Williams never worked harder for 108 rushing yards, I can promise you that. The Jags knocked the stuffing out of him.
i. Cleveland's Corey Williams, stunting from defensive tackle outside on several rushes to take advantage of his quickness, sacked Ben Roethlisberger twice and pressured him another time, and added five tackles. On a night fit for neither man nor polar bear, Williams was athletic and powerful, the kind of player the previous regime broke the bank for in March 2008.
7. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 14:
a. Two punches, Trent Cole? That's going to cost you $20,000 -- minimum.
b. Way to show up ready to play, Seahawks. First five plays at Houston: a 33-yard Texans kick return, a 64-yard touchdown pass from Matt Schaub to Andre Johnson, touchdown, incomplete pass by Matt Hasselbeck, fumbled snap by Hasselbeck.
c. You're in the pennant race, Jags. Anyone out there buying a ticket to avoid one of the big prime-time embarrassments in a long time Thursday when the Colts come to town?
d. Collinsworth said it. I'd like to echo it. What's wrong with Carson Palmer (15-25, 94 yards)? Yes, 94 yards. In four actual quarters.
e. I can't get over Randy Moss. If you didn't see the game, find someone who TiVOed it. Disgraceful.
f. Asked about his confidence in the pass defense after the Eagles hung 45 on the Giants, Tom Coughlin said, "That's not a great question.'' But it's one his legions of fans are asking.
g. The second pick in the draft, Rams tackle JasonSmith, missed his second straight game with a concussion. Scary thing is, he doesn't remember how he got it.
8. I think this is what's crazy about football: The Redskins were in the biggest freefall of any team in the league around midseason, with an offense that didn't score more than 17 points in any of the first eight games. Now they've lost their best two running backs for the year, have a retiree calling plays, and they've scored 88 points in the last three weeks. And Jason Campbell looks like a player.
9. I think you didn't know (I sure didn't) that Tony Dungy completed one pass each to Lynn Swann and John Stallworth in their Hall of Fame careers. True. Happened in 1977, when injuries forced Chuck Noll to tap the former University of Minnesota quarterback to throw eight passes one game.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I signed about 700 Monday Morning Quarterback books this weekend, bringing the total to somewhere around 1,500, which was a shock to me. Three notes: Thanks for reading and sending the books, and thanks for the gratitude ... I had to shorten lots of the personalizations, or I'd never have gotten through it. So if you get it back and hoped for a 150-word paragraph and got a short sentence, sorry. I'd still be signing if I wrote everything I was asked to write ...
Finally, seven of you didn't send your return address, so we actually have no idea where to send the books. If you think you might be one of those, send along your information with some clues about what you asked me to say and who to say it to ... Books will be mailed by Wednesday or Thursday of this week. Thanks for being involved in a project I never envisioned would be quite like this. And thanks to the Fantasy League from Tustin, Calif., that got nine books signed.
b. One other book note: Interesting postscript to the biggest play in recent Eagles history from buddies Reuben Frank and Mark Eckel in their Game Changers: The Greatest Plays in Philadelphia Eagles History: On the fourth-and-26 conversion from McNabb to Freddie Mitchell in the 2003 playoff game against Green Bay, Frank and Eckel report that the two men "despised each other,'' which is known to some. But listen to this vitriol. "Donovan hated the fact that the fans and media loved me more than him,'' said Mitchell. "He only threw me the ball when he had to.'' Linebacker Ike Reese said Mitchell "was trying to mess up our opportunity to win a ring.'' Makes you long for the days of Fred-X.
c. Trying to figure out what movie to see this week. There's about 10 my wife and I want to see. Ideas?
d. Coffeenerdness: Looking forward to trying Sledgehammer Blend, which smells like a sledgehammer meeting very dark coffee beans. Thanks to reader Ira Freehof, owner of the Comfort Diner in Manhattan, for gifting the beans the other day at the Matt Light lunch we had to raise money for his wilderness camp to help at-risk teens in rural Ohio.
Good time was had by all, and thanks so much to Davio's-Foxboro GM Paul Flaherty for treating our eclectic group of 10, made up of locals, a fellow from Nashville and three from New York. Great of them to pay to raise $10,000 for the wilderness camp (mattlightfoundation.org).
e. Had a good conversation with Mike McGuire on Saturday. We've got an interesting project planned for after the holidays and benefiting Mike's men that I hope thousands of readers can get involved in. Mike's company will be deploying to Afghanistan (his third tour to either Iraq or Afghanistan) sometime in the fall, it appears.
f. The episode of "The Office'' with the Dundee Awards is the best episode of that show. Ever, I believe.
g. Jason Bay's defense gets worse by the day. I don't get it. Watched the guy for a year and a half ad he seemed pretty average. Now he's being talked about in butcher fashion. I never saw that Jason Bay.
h. Peter Gammons, for all of us who have been tremendously influenced by your career and your passion, thank you, thank you and thank you again. It'll be good to see you on NESN and MLB Network this season, but I take it your friends around the country won't see as much of you. Their loss. Your baseball notes column from the Globe days was often imitated, never duplicated.
Let's face it: Even with a win tonight, it's going to be very difficult for the 49ers to win the West. Arizona (8-5) and the Niners (5-7) each have Detroit and St. Louis left to play; the other game for each team is Arizona hosting Green Bay and San Francisco traveling to Philadelphia. So you never know ... but we really do know in this case. Arizona's won seven of nine, and it would have been eight of nine, mostly likely, if Kurt Warner had played at Tennessee a couple of weeks ago. Alex Smith will have to win an unlikely duel to make tonight interesting. Arizona 31, San Francisco 16.