Friday October 29th, 2010

The Minnesota Vikings do not know if Brett Favre will make his 316th straight NFL start (including playoffs) Sunday in Foxboro against the Patriots, and that's the truth. This is how it's going to work with Favre and his injured ankle this weekend: Coach Brad Childress will watch him at practice Friday in Eden Prairie, Minn., and then again Saturday in the team's walk-through practice before flying to Massachusetts in the afternoon, before deciding whether Favre or Tarvaris Jackson will play in the vital game at New England.

Favre wants to play, or at least try to play, despite a stress fracture near his left ankle and chip fracture of his left heel. My guess is he figures if he's gone this far, and he's in the last couple of months of his NFL career, he'll have a long time to heal -- like, the rest of his life. Childress is more pragmatic. If he doesn't think Favre can escape the rush, he'll play Jackson.

Don't expect to hear much leaking out of the Vikings, because Childress is likely to want to see how Favre responds Saturday after testing it Friday. I expect Favre to get out there and look pretty mobile, based on the lack of severity of the injury and his ability to play with pain. Then it'll be up to Childress to see if he thinks a perfectly healthy but inexperienced Jackson -- who has not started a game in 34 months -- is a better option than the battered Favre.

Here's the other thing I know entering this interesting weekend for the Vikings: The decision whether Childress will play will have nothing to do with their personal relationship or Childress' frustration with Favre's recent play. Favre threw one of his classic, brain-freeze interceptions Sunday night -- resulting in the winning points in a 28-24 loss to Green Bay -- that Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop returned 32 yards for a touchdown. Favre is having one of his worst seasons, at age 41; he's already thrown three more interceptions this year (10) than he threw all of last season, and his passer rating is 29 points lower than in 2009. But Childress' decision, I'm told, will be based solely on health and not on Favre's inability to find, and hit, open receivers.

Favre is not a big numbers guy. Deep down, he's pretty sure Peyton Manning will pass his career touchdown total (Favre has thrown 504 TD passes, 125 more than Manning), but the one number than matters to him is the consecutive-games streak. Say Favre doesn't play Sunday, and his consecutive-games streak ends at 315. That'd mean Manning would have to play till at least the end of the 2015 season, and perhaps into 2016, when he would be 40-and-a-half years old, to pass Favre. Factoring in playoff games, Manning is at 216, and he'd have to play 100 straight games to get to 316. Obviously that would depend on how many playoff games the Colts play to determine when he'd get there.

My guess? Favre shows Childress enough Friday and Saturday to prove he can evade the Patriot rush Sunday. Childress would do well to remember one other thing as he deliberates: The last time Favre was in Foxboro, a Thursday night two years ago, he was magnificent in a 34-31 overtime win against New England -- 26 of 33, two touchdowns, no interceptions, a vital long third-down conversion in overtime to lead the Jets to the win. It's got to be tempting for Childress, even with how bad his team and his quarterback have played in recent weeks, to try to recapture that magic and revive their season this weekend. Isn't that why the Vikings begged Favre so fervently to come back?

Randy Moss, WR, Minnesota.

He's the forgotten man this week in the midst of the Favre-Childress maelstrom, and I'm sure he likes it that way. But whoever quarterbacks the Vikings is going to have a Moss desperate to make more of an impact than he has in his first three Viking games (12 catches, 166 yards, two touchdowns). Moss will jump a little higher -- unlike on the last Favre pass Sunday in Green Bay -- and play a little faster. No doubt he'll be extremely motivated to show the Patriots why he should have been their go-to guy this year, not their forgotten one, before the trade to Minnesota.

San Francisco running back Frank Gore's rushing line against Denver in London:

This is the week the running game needs to be Troy Smith's best friend.

Troy Smith, QB, San Francisco (No. 1)

Great question by Ross Tucker on our Sirius NFL radio show Wednesday: "Can someone please explain to me why the 49ers gave away Shaun Hill to Detroit?'' Half of the Bay Area (well, 1/10th maybe, considering the place has World Series fever) is probably asking the same thing, seeing how the Niners have to turn to an absolute unknown quantity instead of a passer who has played passably in Matthew Stafford's absence (61-percent passing, nine TDs, seven INTs). The fact that Smith is playing is a major indictment of David Carr; if you get benched as the backup to Alex Smith in favor of a guy who's never practiced in your system before -- in a game that counts -- turn out the lights, baby. Party's over. What we should see out of Smith, the 6-foot ex-Buckeye: some mobility, lots of simplicity, and a heavy dose of old reliable Vernon Davis, the tight end who can catch the ball with defenders hanging on him.

1. Whether Ryan Fitzpatrick is a legitimate long-term answer for Buffalo. He's the second-rated quarterback in the NFL, bizarrely. If he can play well against the surprisingly good Kansas City defense, maybe the Bills won't have to scout Andrew Luck of Stanford so hard after all. Speaking of Luck ...

2. The Luck-Locker showdown. When Stanford and Washington meet in Seattle on Saturday, it will not just be an important Pac-10 game. It will also be a showcase of the two players vying to be the top quarterback taken in the 2011 NFL Draft. Luck has separated himself with his stellar play while leading the Cardinal to a 6-1 record. Locker, who struggled mightily early in the season, will need some good late-season performances, starting Saturday, to close the gap on Luck.

3. Felix Jones' workload. The Cowboys' talented running back is averaging 13 touches a game (10 rushes, three catches), which is simply not enough. With Tony Romo out, Dallas will need to feed its ground game to ease the pressure on Jon Kitna.

4. David Gettis and Brandon LaFell trying to make Carolinians believe there will be life after Steve Smith. Don't ask me how, but these two rookies, from Baylor and LSU respectively, caught 216 yards worth of passes, with two touchdowns, as the Panthers got off the schneid Sunday against San Francisco.

5. The very strange NFC North. If the Jets beat Green Bay, the Pack will be 4-4 at the season's midpoint, the Vikings will be under .500, and the free-falling Bears, on a bye this week but sitting at 4-3, would be the division leaders. In that scenario, I ask you how, after watching the Bears stumble through an incompetent 1-3 stretch, Chicago could get to the first of November in first place in what was supposed to be a Packers-Vikings runaway?

6. How the Saints bounce back. Was last week's stunning home loss to the Browns a wake-up call for the Saints? We'll find out Halloween night when the 5-1 Steelers visit New Orleans in a matchup of the NFL's past two championship franchises.

7. Jahvid Best to get going. I can't believe the guy who exploded out of the blocks the way Best did has averaged 38 rushing yards a game over the last four outings. Washington's not a great team to get out of a slump against, but offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is going to give him that chance Sunday.

8. Mike Pereira. It's cool to watch the former NFL officiating czar morph into a multi-media standout. I wonder what good nugget he'll throw out this weekend, or in the aftermath of the weekend. He's great when FOX pops him into a game to explain a strange call, and I'm enjoying his writing as well. He's got a good weekly explanatory column on The other day, this is what he wrote about Lovie Smith not challenging a call that was ruled a fumble on the field but appeared clearly to be a touchdown on a quarterback sneak by Jay Cutler: "This play should have been challenged by the Bears and proved to be the difference in the game. There were plenty of replays before the Redskins snapped the ball on the next play that showed the ball breaking the plane. I am flummoxed that the Bears would choose to challenge the previous play and not this one.'' Terrific analysis.

9. Chris Johnson. Now that the Titans, who surprisingly are second in the league in scoring, have proved they have a legitimate receiving threat in Kenny Britt, I'm interested to see how defenses will play them. Johnson is third in the league in rushing, but his yards per carry average is way down (4.1) and he hasn't had as many long, game-breaking runs.

10. The Colts' replacement. No Dallas Clark, no problem for Peyton Manning and Co.? How tight end Jacob Tamme plays in place of Clark could determine whether the Colts can avoid being swept by the Texans for the first time ever.

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