Plenty of great games this weekend to mini-dissect. In fact, it's arguably the best weekend of games this year. But we've all been derailed by the Donovan McNabb benching for the unimpressive Rex Grossman in Washington, so that has to lead the weekend news.
In March, Andy Reid couldn't believe there weren't more teams in the NFL interested in trading less than a first-round pick for McNabb. In fact, there was only one: Washington. I've found out recently that the Raiders did not have a viable trade offer on the table; the Eagles could have gotten maybe a fourth-round pick from Oakland for him, but nothing like the offer headed by a second-rounder from Washington. Had the Redskins not come through with their offer, Reid probably would have held on to McNabb and let the best quarterback win the job in Philadelphia this year.
So now it's eight months after the McNabb trade to Washington, and a second highly respected quarterback guy, Mike Shanahan, has spurned McNabb. Whether you like the move or hate it (and I find the timing questionable, certainly, with McNabb having played better than average Sunday in the 17-16 loss to Tampa Bay), the one thing you have to admit is this: Two smart quarterback men have turned thumbs-down on McNabb in the span of nine months. You can defend McNabb all you want, and Lord knows he has his legions of defenders out there, but Reid and Shanahan are in the business of winning football games. Both have been to Super Bowls. Shanahan's won two of them. And both said they thought they could do better than McNabb.
Reid was under tremendous pressure to be right when he traded McNabb within the division. And 13 games into McNabb's Washington career, Shanahan is under tremendous pressure to be right in playing Grossman. My point is: Criticize Shanahan for his handling of McNabb and for thinking Grossman is anything but a backup, and acknowledge that McNabb is hamstrung by poor offensive support, but understand that McNabb bears a prominent role in this too. He's 25th in the league in passer rating, 26th in touchdown-to-interception ratio, 27th in accuracy.
One point you should know: Before the infamous benching of McNabb in the closing minutes of a Week 8 loss to Detroit, Shanahan told McNabb he thought he was so sufficiently hobbled by two hamstring strains that he should sit out the game that week and rest during the team's bye week. That way, he'd have a solid 16 days before he had to go back to practice and prepare for the first game after the bye. McNabb said he felt OK to play, and so he played. He still hasn't been able to be as mobile as the team would like. That has to play some role in Shanahan's decision.
But this isn't a decision I would have made. I'm not on the inside, but Shanahan had to know that his locker room will be roiling over this, and NFL Network's Jason LaCanfora has quoted one unidentified Redskins player as saying the locker room was very angry over it. If you have a prospect you think can be a candidate to play, fine -- play him. But Grossman shouldn't be anyone's starter. Shanahan's going to have some fence-mending to do.
Now four points on the games of the weekend:
Jags at Colts. In six of the past seven years, the Colts have won the AFC South; in the other year, 2008, the Colts won 12 games and were a wild-card team. This year, the Colts have to win Sunday or face losing the division and missing out on the playoffs for the first time since 2001. So this is quite a momentous game. In the past four weeks, the Colts have allowed 31, 36, 38 and 28 points, and I don't see much of a way they're going to hold a rejuvenated David Garrard (65.5-percent accuracy) and running back Maurice Jones-Drew (six straight 100-yard games) down. Peyton Manning's going to have to put his team on his back -- what else is new? -- for the Colts to have a chance here.
Chiefs at Rams. Don't want to call this a must-win for Kansas City, but it pretty much is that. The Chiefs are 8-5, and San Diego 8-6 after last night's rout of the Niners. A loss at St. Louis would leave the Chiefs tied with the Chargers with two games to play, and San Diego's two (at Cincinnati, at Denver) look like pretty easy wins. Since Kansas City is likely to lose a tiebreaker with San Diego (tied in head-to-head and division record, with the Chargers having an edge in the third tiebreaker, record against common opponents, if the Chiefs lose to St. Louis), this becomes a vital game in the Jones Dome. And not an easy one. The Rams are tied for first in a division nobody seems to want, and playing their most important home game in five years.
Jets at Steelers. No Troy Polamalu (ankle), evidently, for the Steelers, which seems to make the Jets' job easier. If Mark Sanchez were playing well, and the running game were the 2009 running game, and the defense had someone who scared the quarterback on a pass-rush, and if they were distracted by this Sal Alosi mess, I could see New York winning. With all those things ... uhhhh, no.
Bears at Vikings (Monday). Understand that the Bears are not whining because they have to play in frigid weather Monday night. They just want to be sure they're not playing on a skating rink, with unforgiving turf, at the University of Minnesota's football field. "I feel for the Vikings,'' safety Chris Harris told me. "I know they're going through a lot of issues right now. But as player, I think what we're concerned with is making sure we're not going out there on a field that we'll have a much bigger risk of injury.'' I'm told this morning that the Vikings and the university plan to tarp the field over the weekend, blow hot air onto the field with six or eight blowers, and make sure the artificial surface is not rock-solid by the time the game kicks off. So the field shouldn't be a debacle by gametime.
Vincent Jackson's back.
In a five-catch, 112-yard, three-touchdown performance against the 49ers, Jackson began to re-emerge as an impact player for the rest of the season and, the Chargers hope, for the postseason. His first touchdown -- a leaping, physical catch against cornerback Nate Clements of the Niners just two minutes into the game -- showed how Jackson is the kind of competitive receiver the Chargers just couldn't replace in his absence.
Pivotal for his future, Jackson has begun to speak to groups in southern California about not doing what he did -- namely, don't drink and drive. He's had two driving-while-impaired arrests as a Charger, which has led to the team not wanting to pay him the big bucks he'd deserve if off-field stuff wasn't factored into what teams pay players. Maybe other teams will see Jackson as a reformed guy when it comes to free-agency in 2011. We'll see. For now, the Chargers have a major weapon for the rest of the season.
Cortland Finnegan, CB, Tennessee.
No eyes in Nashville will be on the outcome of the Texans-Titans. All eyes, and I'm sure the CBS iso cameras, will be on the matchup between Finnegan and Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson, who brawled when the teams met last month. Finnegan told me he wants to play the role of peacemaker with Johnson. "My hope is me and Andre can just call a truce,'' Finnegan said. "I respect him first and foremost as a football player. I'm sorry that got out of hand.'' Finnegan said he's "not exactly sure what I'm supposed to be sorry for, because I was just playing hard, but if it requires me to say I'm sorry, I will, just so we can move on from this.''
Finnegan also told me he will continue to "quick-jam'' (his words) aggressive receivers like Johnson at the line of scrimmage, and said he thinks the reason he hit Johnson high, apparently causing the receiver to flip out three weeks ago, is because Johnson leaned back at the point of impact, causing his jam to go up around the shoulders instead of the chest. Regardless, look for Finnegan to try to bury the hatchet Sunday when they step on the field together. I'll be interested to see Johnson's reaction. I tried to reach out to him, with no luck, but my feeling is that he's enough of a gentleman that he'll shake hands with Finnegan when they line up across from each other Sunday afternoon.
Jamar Chaney, MLB, Philadelphia (number 51).
Bad news for the Eagles heading into the NFC East prize fight with the Giants at the Meadowlands. Chaney, a seventh-round pick from Mississippi State, makes his first career start at the nerve center of the Eagle D -- and all he has to do is be quick enough to chase down Ahmad Bradshaw, strong enough to take down Giant monsterback Brandon Jacobs, and tough enough to take the beating from aptly named Giant tight end Bear Pascoe.
Chaney held the fort last week after middle linebacker and defensive signal-caller Stewart Bradley went down with a dislocated elbow, but starting this week, he'll be a studied target. "He wasn't shy with his calls, and he played physical football,'' Andy Reid said of Chaney's job against Dallas last Sunday. Ratchet it up, kid.
Tight end Dustin Keller's projected line against the Steelers on Sunday:
The Steelers are surrendering a historic 60.1 rushing yards per game, and I don't see Mark Sanchez having much time to get the ball downfield. Be happy you've got Keller in fantasyland if you do.
1. Drew Brees trying to make a little bit of history against Ray Lewis. He'd join Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks with five straight 4,000-yard passing seasons if he can manage 145 yards Sunday in the Inner Harbor.
2. The impact on the first overall pick. Carolina, taking on beatable Arizona at home, finishes at Pittsburgh (on a short week) and at Atlanta. In other words, the Panthers are likely to have two straight losses to end the season, unless the Falcons have zero to play for in Week 17. So this could be the last chance for the Panthers to trip up on the first overall pick next April. And a shot at Andrew Luck.
3. Kerry Collins approaching a milestone I'm stunned he's close to. Eleven quarterbacks have thrown for 40,000 yards in NFL history. Collins could be the 12th if he throws for 331 yards in the final three weeks. Who knows? As bad as the Houston secondary is, he could get it this week, though I doubt it. Incredible for a guy who the Panthers had to babysit and continually make excuses for after he was drafted in the first round in 1995.
4. The Jets, trying to save their season. Won't be easy, at Pittsburgh in the late game Sunday, and then at Chicago next weekend. I want to show you something that's quite possible if the Jets, who will be favored to lose both of their next two, actually lose to the Steelers and Bears to fall to 9-6. The following teams could be 9-6 entering Week 17, with a 10-6 record likely to win the second and final wild-card playoff spot in the AFC: Miami, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Kansas City, San Diego. Take the Chiefs and Jags, let's say, out of the mix for winning their divisions. That still leaves four teams entering the final Sunday of the season vying for the final playoff spot. The Jets could whittle down the odds by winning in Pittsburgh. I don't see it.
5. Aaron Rodgers' head. Looks like he won't be playing Sunday night at New England; he missed practice Wednesday and Thursday, days after suffering his second concussion of the season. All those who think Matt Flynn can win in Foxboro, raise your Cheeseheads. I didn't think so.
6. The Giants chasing Mike Vick, and so early in the day. A game for the NFC East championship usually would never be played early on Sunday. (Vegas dwellers, it's breakfast at the Sports Book Sunday.) Here's how it happened: CBS has the doubleheader game this week; that's the Jets and Steelers, which cannot be moved. The two New York teams cannot play games in the same time slot by league rule, so the Giants-Eagles had to either be the 1 p.m. Eastern Time game, or have been flexed to Sunday night 11 days ago. With New England-Green Bay scheduled for Sunday night, NBC and the NFL weren't going to move Tom Brady and the ratings-magnet Packers -- meeting for the first time in four years -- for Iggles-Jints.
7. A winter wonderland in Minneapolis. I don't know about you, but to me, the more winter we get in the NFL the better. And for the Vikings to actually have an outdoor game in a frigid Snow Globe Monday night at the University of Minnesota's stadium is exceedingly cool. Or cold. Having Joe Webb reprise the Joe Kapp role for the Vikings makes it ever cooler.
8. The Championship of Missouri. Chiefs-Rams, with everything to play for in mid-December. I love it. Next we'll be talking about Lions-Browns in December, with everything to play for. (We can dream, can't we?)
9. Hall of Fame voters, filing their ballots. There are 44 of us. Ballots are due Wednesday. I mailed mine two days ago, with my choices of cutting the list of 26 modern-era candidates to the required 15. The Hall will tabulate the ballots, then give us the final 15 in January, in time to research and reflect some more before we go into the meeting to select the Class of 2011 on Feb. 5 in Dallas.
10. Sal Alosi. Mike Westhoff. Rex Ryan. Someone's going to have interesting news on the June Taylor Dancers formation on the New York sideline on the Sunday pregame shows. Looking forward to hearing it.