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Truths starting to emerge as season approaches midway point

So we're on the verge of the season's midpoint -- 115 games down, 141 to go -- these 10 truths have become evident as we head to November:

1. Green Bay's the best team.

2. Second-best: I don't totally trust anyone. Niners? Steelers? Patriots, assuming they can play a shootout? Or everyone's not-so-darkhorse this morning, Philadelphia?

3. The Colts are 0-8. Miami's 0-7. St. Louis, Denver and Arizona might be in play before the Race for Andrew Luck concludes on New Year's Day. To me, there's one clear leader in the clubhouse for the top pick in the 2012 draft, because the Dolphins are just too darned competitive for their own good: Indianapolis.

4. The Niners' magic number to win the NFC West is six. Not since Nixon-McGovern has there been less drama in a race two months before it ends.

5. This is how playoff races get fun: There's one unbeaten team (Green Bay) in the league this morning, one one-loss team (San Francisco) and 16 two- or three-loss teams.

6. The Giants may have a two-game lead in the NFC East over everyone else, but if they met on a neutral field in Wichita this afternoon, I bet the Eagles would be a seven-point fave over New York.

7. First-place team in the AFC East: Buffalo (5-2, by virtue of a tiebreaker edge over 5-2 New England.) Legitimately. How bizarre would either of these two scenarios be: The Patriots having to play a Wild Card game for the right to travel to Buffalo to play a divisional playoff game ... or a Cincinnati-Buffalo Wild Card game -- with Marvin Lewis and Chan Gailey coaching, and Rex Ryan and Jim Caldwell home watching on TV?

8. Andy Dalton has more wins (five) than Philip Rivers, Mike Vick, Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman. Cam Newton has more passing yards (2,393) than Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning.

9. It doesn't look like Tim Tebow's good enough to prevent Denver from making Matt Barkley or Landry Jones its first pick next April. But he sure is a nice guy.

10. Different offseason program. Same old in-season one. Saints beat the winless Colts by 55 one week, lose to the winless Rams by 10 the next.

And now on to the most interesting developments of Week 8:

The Steelers are going to be very tough to beat ... if they don't keep losing defensive players.

I like what Mike Tomlin said to his team before the Steelers played nemesis New England. Cliché, but true. "History's history,'' he told his team with a bit of disdain. "You can write tomorrow's history today.''

In the last four meetings with Tom Brady, the Steelers were 0-4, allowed 34 points per game, and watched as Brady threw nine touchdowns and one interception. So the old dog learned a new trick. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is a fan of funky zone blitzes and coverage on the back end; on Sunday, the Steelers instead pressed the Patriot receivers at the line of scrimmage, never let them get comfortable in their routes, and blanketed reliable slot receiver Wes Welker with cornerback Ike Taylor.

"Followed him everywhere -- inside, outside, in the slot,'' safety Ryan Clark told me after the game. "You can tell Welker was getting a little frazzled by it." And, Clark said, the Steelers played more press coverage "than any game I've ever seen here.'' Brady threw for 198 yards and didn't turn it over, but Welker's lack of impact (six catches, 39 yards) told the tale as Brady just couldn't generate consistent downfield offense. New England's 17 points were half its normal output in this recent series.

So now no team in the AFC has fewer than two losses, and Pittsburgh, which looked so old in September, looks revived now. The only scar on this game was the loss of LaMarr Woodley, who sacked Brady twice, to a strained hamstring. He Tweeted Sunday night he'd definitely be back for Sunday night's showdown at home with Baltimore, but that may depend on today's MRI of the hammy. On offense, Pittsburgh's almost immune to a slump, as long as Ben Roethlisberger stays upright.

"We knew we had to control the ball to keep them off the field,'' Mike Tomlin said after the game, and Roethlisberger's 50 passes did the trick. The fate of the division could turn on the next two weeks, with Pittsburgh hosting Baltimore and playing surprising Cincinnati on the road.

And here come the Ravens.

Trailing 24-6 at halftime, the Ravens were booed off their home field, and deservedly so. At the half, Anquan Boldin told the ineffective Joe Flacco he had a favorable matchup on the outside, to the left of the offensive formation. "Come to me,'' Boldin said. Flacco knew this wasn't just Ochocinco-like bravado. And so on the first series of the quarter, he found Boldin for 37, then later threw to him when Boldin drew an interference call in the end zone. That led to one touchdown. On the third series of the quarter, Flacco targeted Boldin seven times, completing four for 80 yards; Boldin drew another interference call, leading to another short Ray Rice score.

"The thing with Q,'' said Flacco afterward, "is that he might look covered, but he's physical enough to win some battles -- and I can throw back-shoulder to him too. I just had to get the ball to our playmakers.''

Flacco threw some excellent balls in the second half, particularly on the two drives where he zoned in Boldin. I asked him about his 52-percent completion rate coming in, and why that had regressed this year. "I don't think it's an accuracy issue,'' he said. (Maybe not, but completing passes does require that one little trait.) "It comes down to us executing better. There's some throwaways in there, and we've got to get a lot of new guys going. It takes time, but we'll be okay.'' The problems Sunday were special teams and a sputtering first-half offense. Not much time to work on them, with four tough defensive teams ahead -- Pittsburgh, Seattle, Cincinnati and San Francisco.

Now this was a little awkward.

The Rams hosted the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals inside the Edward Jones Dome Sunday, but truth be told, the timing wasn't great. The Rams were 0-6, coming off a skunking last week at Dallas, and then watched all week as the Cards played one of the great World Series in recent history and stunned baseball by winning it. Meanwhile, the Rams had earned every last boo. They had a huge hole to dig out of. Pardon them if they weren't in much of a mood to pat their neighbors on the back as the Cards paraded the World Series trophy around the stadium before the game, and pitcher Chris Carpenter went to midfield before the game for the coin flip against the Saints.

"Make sure you say this the right way, because it's awesome for the city and we couldn't be happier for the Cardinals,'' said Rams running back Steven Jackson. "But this was an all-business day for us. I can't say all of that stuff didn't bother us. It was just a little strange, really. We couldn't be concerned with all of the other stuff going on. We had to punch the Saints in the mouth today. If you've ever been in a fight and tasted your own blood, that's what we were feeling -- and if you're a man, you fight back.'' That's what the Rams did.

Jackson himself recovered an early fumble that led to a Rams touchdown, and rushed for a steely 159 yards on the day. Along the way, he issued a rousing pre-game speech about being professionals, and barked at his own teammates, the opposition ... and even a half-hour after the game, still seemed totally on edge. "We had a mindset today that no matter who the other team was, we were going to kick the hell out of them,'' said Jackson. "I don't care who we played, the result was going to be the same.''

The Rams have Arizona twice, Cleveland and Seattle once over the next four weeks. It's highly, highly unlikely they could get back in the pennant race ... but weren't their neighbors 10.5 games out of a Wild Card spot with five weeks to play?

The schedule could make or break a couple of teams.

The schedule is boring to some. Not to me. This week, I find the slates of San Francisco and Baltimore interesting.

The 49ers, 6-1, have run away and hid from the NFC West, building a four-game division lead. The Ravens, scrambling to be great again, are 5-2. But both play four games in a 19-day stretch beginning Sunday, and both will be tested because of a hard road. The San Francisco and Baltimore slates between now and Thanksgiving:

The 49ers have the slightly easier go of it, except they've got two East Coast trips in one of the dumbest pieces of scheduling the NFL has put out in years. When the preliminary schedule came out and the Niners saw that they were schedule to fly east to play five Eastern Time Zone games in 61 days, they felt they'd be able to do something about at least one of the trips. With the games at Baltimore and Washington separated by 18 days, they figured they'd be able to gerrymander the schedule so that they wouldn't have to fly coast-to-coast twice in a little more than two weeks. But the league couldn't get the Redskins game switched to the 20th; too many complications. Instead of playing in Maryland twice in five days (in Landover on the 20th and 36 miles north in Baltimore on Thanksgiving), the Niners will make two trips. They won't complain, but they're not happy about it.

The Ravens have a tough road, too, obviously, starting Sunday night in Pittsburgh. "We're going to play Pittsburgh this week, and that's what matters now,'' quarterback Joe Flacco of the Ravens told me. "Then we go to Seattle, and after that, I guess we've got a short week. But the flip side of that is, then we get a long week to prepare after that, and some rest. So I really don't concern myself with it.''

***

The Bodden Watch

It's rare that a cornerback who's more than a dime-back-quality guy shakes free during the season, and so it could be interesting today to see which team, if any, claims cornerback Leigh Bodden off waivers from New England. In a mystery move, New England dumped Bodden Friday (I'm hearing he was going through the motions, unhappy to not be one the Pats' top three corners) and sent a few teams to the video room to study the 30-year-old Bodden. Teams have until 4 p.m. Eastern today to make a claim for him.

Bodden has two-and-a-half years left on his contract, with a total value of $9.8 million. A team could pick him up this season and pay him $2 million for the last two months of the season, then cut him if he's not playing well; then it would be renting a corner with some ability for the stretch run. Among teams with more than $5 million in cap room this year who could be kicking the tires: Niners, Bengals, Bucs, Chiefs and Bills ... and because you can never eliminate them when it comes to cover guys, the Jets.

***

Book review:

War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team, (itbooks), by Michael Holley.

Anything Holley writes, after his memorable Patriot Reign insider's tome about New England's rise to power, I'll read. This didn't let me down. It's a book about Belichick, chief lieutenant Scott Pioli and wunderkind Thomas Dimitroff growing the Patriots, then Pioli and Dimitroff splitting off to run the show in Kansas City and Atlanta, respectively. The explanatory parts of how a draft is put together (Holley is especially strong analyzing the Chiefs' way of picking players under Pioli) merges well with stories about trades and draft strategy.

I especially liked Holley fleshing out how the three men disagree. Their football backbone is the same, Holley writes. But whereas Belichick, who gives the vibe of a conservative team manager, takes chances on off-field risks like tight end Aaron Hernandez, an outside-the-box thinker like Dimitroff won't touch problem children.

Dimitroff had black dots -- meaning he wouldn't draft them -- on both Florida's Brandon Spikes and Florida's Hernandez in the 2010 draft. Owner Arthur Blank even pressed Dimitroff on why he had so many black-dot guys, many more than other teams in the league. "[Dimitroff] was an extension of a Belichick Tree, not a Belichick monolith,'' Holley writes. "He typed a few notes in his iPad about general-managing in his third year. Be true to yourself, he wrote. Remember your roots: tough, honest, organic.''

Holley captures a dinner at the Senior Bowl in Mobile with Pioli and Dimitroff, in which they discuss the philosophy of building a team, right down to how they want their draft rooms to feel on draft day.

Said Pioli: "I need silence. I need limited activity.''

"We have things you would never allow in your draft room,'' Dimitroff said.

"Like what?'' Pioli said.

Like Falcons board of directors members Hank Aaron and Andrew Young sitting in the draft room if they choose. Presumably, it makes Blank happy.

"That's how I see it differently,'' Pioli said to Dimitroff. "Draft day is not entertainment in that room, okay? Last year, I spent $30 millon guaranteed on one pick. I've gotta have a clear head to make that decision. Do Fortune 500 companies have people coming into their boardrooms? I don't know, maybe I'm taking myself too seriously.''

"Respectfully, Scott, if my mistakes are because we have seven limited partners and a couple business associates in there, then my personal opinion is I'm not the right person for the job.''

There's more talk, and Pioli said: "We've got to be careful about how much of football loses its soul. Because we got to where we are because we kept the football soul.

Fascinating, too, is the discussion of last spring's Julio Jones trade. Blank urged Dimitroff to feel out his friends in the business to see if the trades makes as much sense to them as it does to the Falcons. Dimitroff called Belichick. "As a friend,'' Belichick told him, "I wouldn't do it.'' His advice was to not move up 21 picks in the first round, with all the attendant costs, to get Jones. Stick where you are, and take a good receiver like Pitt's Jonathan Baldwin. He's just as good, Belichick says.

Of course, the Falcons dealt for Jones. And Pioli took Baldwin for the Chiefs at the bottom of the round.

Holley also shows much of Belichick's human side -- at his father and mentor Steve's funeral. At the funeral of a man the Browns fired when he was coach, the father of Thomas Dimitroff, longtime scout Tom Dimitroff. ("Would you mind if I put a rose on your husband's casket?'' Belichick said to Tom Dimitroff's widow. She allowed it.) When protégé Josh McDaniels got fired in Denver last year, Belichick told him: "Call your parents. Go see them. Make sure they know you're okay because I know that they're going to go through this and feel terribly about it.''

Other tidbits Patriot fans will enjoy:

• Scouts were ticked off in 2006 that Belichick overrode their reports and picked Laurence Maroney in the first round (apparently on the strong advice of Josh McDaniels' brother Ben, one of the Maroney's college coaches) and Chad Jackson in the second round -- even after receivers coach Brian Daboll said he didn't want to coach Jackson.

• After the Boston Herald reported (incorrectly, as it turned out) that the Patriots had taped a Rams practice before the 2002 Super Bowl, Belichick went to his captains and asked if he should address the team about it -- just before the Super Bowl they played against the Giants in February 2008. The captains said no, so Belichick didn't talk to the team about it.

• Defensive keystone Vince Wilfork didn't like the trade of Mike Vrabel to Kansas City before the 2009 season. "That trade ticks me off. Right now. Still. When I heard about it, I said, 'What the f--- is going on?' If you want to talk about the Patriot Way, you start with Vrabel.' ''

• It wasn't just management that came to dislike free agent signee Adalius Thomas. It was the players. Tedy Bruschi on Thomas: "He started to question a lot of things in meeting. 'Why are we doing that?' 'Why don't we just do this?' He stopped buying in on what the coaches thought. He really did think he had all the answers, you know? And that's what he turned into: the answer man. That's when I was on my way out and I was glad to get out at that point.''

Regardless of your rooting interests, War Room is going to take you into the inner game of pro football. I recommend it highly.

***

Interesting stuff in the magazine this week.

I hope you'll take the time to check out our NFL Midseason Report this week. In it, I assembled a Think Tank of good football minds -- coaches Sean Payton and Jerry Gray, cornerback Champ Bailey, quarterback Andy Dalton, college coaches Mike Leach and Gus Malzahn (Cam Newton's coordinator at Auburn and a spread-offense devotee), and analytical football man Brian Burke of AdvancedNFLStats.com -- to ask about the state of offensive football. Namely: Why's the air so filled with footballs?

I couldn't use everything from our conference call last week, and a couple of things on the cutting-room floor I thought were good. The first: The recent trend of every-down inside and middle linebackers, designed to be able to stay on the field and stay with good backs and tight ends instead of coming out for extra defensive backs.

JERRY GRAY, Tennessee defensive coordinator: "If you just draft a traditional 6-foot-4 linebacker who is 250 pounds and he's only going to play the run on first and second downs, you're doing yourself a disservice now. I watched the Washington Redskins three years ago draft Brian Orakpo, this year they go to Purdue and draft another really good linebacker. And then they have London Fletcher inside -- a three-down linebacker. You have to be able to cover the field in order to stop offenses these days. If you can't do that, you're going to be in trouble. When you see a guy like Wes Welker lined up against a linebacker, I'd say nine times out of 10 he's going to win that matchup. We can't be like dinosaurs on defense and not use athletic guys. You may not see that big linebacker in the middle of your defense anymore. I think about Ray Lewis when he came out. He was running a 4.5 at 6-2. If you can't go sideline to sideline and stop the run, you're in trouble. A lot of teams are shifting to the 3-4 defense to help themselves with that against wide open offenses. You have to be able to move in space to stop guys.''

SEAN PAYTON, New Orleans coach: "This isn't too long ago now, but when we talk about Bill Walsh and Joe Montana, if we were to take the film out and look at their two-minute offense, it was red right, red left, red right. And if once in a while we might say red right slot, but they were under center, split back, the principles and the timing and all those things were outstanding. But formationally, your tight end was in a three-point stance and your fullback was in the game. There was a time when the fullbacks might have been better receivers than the halfbacks in our league, and then you had a flanker and a tight end. I remember in college, when we had an injury and our coach just said, we're going to just take this one back and play with him and we all looked at each other, in 1984, and thought, well, what are we going to do that for? We just didn't know. It's been an evolution."

MIKE LEACH to PAYTON: "When you line up on offense, do you say: 'If we do this shift or this motion, we're going to have an advantage on this team?' Or is it that you're shuffling the deck and seeing what you have after that and reacting to it?''

PAYTON: "There're a couple reasons why we would shift in motion. I think offenses are as good as they've ever been at blitzing the defense. That's with quick counts, dummy cadence, getting a chance to see the defense with no-huddle, big play on offense come right back to the line of scrimmage. How can we blitz the defense? And informationally how can we do it? I think one of the things about playing good defense is play recognition. We sometimes put a little window dressing on things [as a disguise]. We find ourselves in game plan meetings looking constantly at things we do and how we can dress things up a little bit. Without hurting ourselves, there are some plays in our plan ... Sometimes we'll try to get a mike linebacker to second guess maybe and begin to think more about his assignment and alignment than his tendency key.''

LEACH: "So the model is speed up his mind and slow down his legs."

PAYTON: "Absolutely."

I think you'll like some of the theories advanced in our Think Tank, particularly one that goes all the way down to ninth grade all over America.

1. Green Bay (7-0). On his bye weekend, wideout Greg Jennings went to see The Mountaintop on Broadway. Who's better at his job, Greg? Samuel L. Jackson playing Martin Luther King Jr.? Or Aaron Rodgers playing Johnny Unitas?

2. San Francisco (6-1). Week after week, Frank Gore is keeping this team rolling. Thirty-one carries, 134 yards to beat Cleveland. That's some workhorse.

3. Pittsburgh (6-2). Antonio Brown, I'm a believer.

4. New England (5-2). These things happen, allowing 365 passing yards, when you lose two of your four best corners in the two days before playing a passing team.

5. Detroit (6-2). Lord. A 100-yard interception return for touchdown by Chris Houston. A 24-yard fumble return for touchdown by Cliff Avril. Of course it was against a weak offense in Denver, but Jim Schwartz and Gunther Cunningham are building the kind of defense they aimed to when they arrived in Detroit three seasons ago.

6. Baltimore (5-2). Can you imagine seven worse days for any contender than the Ravens losing to previously 1-5 Jacksonville on Monday and previously 1-5 Arizona the following Sunday? They didn't, thanks to three guys named Flacco, Boldin and Rice in a great second-half rebound against Arizona.

7. Buffalo (5-2). If you saw that game in Toronto -- I doubt many of you did, seeing that it was not competitive -- you saw a defense that totally dismantled Washington, shredding a bad offensive line and holding the visitors to 178 yards.

8. Philadelphia (3-4). I believe Arlen Specter will begin an investigation this morning into how on God's green earth the Eagles could ever have lost four games in a row.

9. Houston (5-3). No Andre Johnson against the hottest defense in the league? No problem. The Texans rolled to a 358-yard day, helped -- again -- by Arian Foster, who, by the way, is absolutely, certainly, definitely not a one-year wonder.

10. Cincinnati (5-2). The Bengals are 3-1 on the road. Andy Dalton is 5-2 as an NFL quarterback. Those are two of the most surprising things about the first half of the season. Misleading stat of the week, by the way: The Bengals win at Seattle by 22 and get outgained by 159 yards.

11. New York Jets (4-3). Darrelle Revis allowed as many completions on his bye weekend as he allows in every other week. Almost.

12. San Diego (4-2). Doesn't it seem like San Diego should be better than a plus-five point differential?

13. New Orleans (5-3). Saints hadn't been shut out in the first half of a game for nearly 50 months until Sunday, at St. Louis. If you watched it, it wasn't a fluke. The Rams manhandled the Saints' offensive line.

14. Atlanta (4-3). Before you Bucs fans write in with pitchforks at the ready, I do understand that Tampa Bay beat both the Saints and Falcons. What can I say? Other than I saw the San Francisco and Chicago games.

15. (tie) New York Giants (5-2). All who had the Giants as a bottom-10 rushing team in terms of efficiency (3.2 per rush) and had Victor Cruz as the team's big deep-threat receiver halfway through the season, raise your hands ... Neither did I.

15. (tie) Chicago (4-3). Thank you, all 1,469 of you who wrote, tweeted, emailed, Pony-Expressed, Facebooked that I forgot the Bears in my Fine Fifteen last week -- which happened. My bad. I love having virtual watchdogs.

Offensive Players of the Week

Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger, and not just for his 36-of-50, 365-yard passing performance over the Patriots, which helped break Tom Brady's four-game win streak over the Steelers. But Roethlisberger controlled the clock as well as the line of scrimmage. Pittsburgh has morphed from a running team into a passing one -- the Steeler ratio is 59-41 pass-run -- and Roethlisberger has handled the transition well. In this game, his scoring drives all were clock-eaters, of 11, 16, 10, 14 and 11 plays, and as a result, the Patriots had the ball for only 21 minutes.

St. Louis RB Steven Jackson. You want a guy on your team who burns to win, and who gets ticked off by a lousy performance. That was Jackson coming off the Rams' embarrassing loss at Dallas eight days ago. His 25-carry, 159-yard performance bled the clock all day and limited Drew Brees' chances with the ball, and the winless Rams pulled off the upset of the day.

Defensive Players of the Week

St. Louis DE Chris Long. Three sacks, a career high, in a great rush day as Long came from different spots on the St. Louis front to stop Drew Brees and the Saints. This is the kind of day the Rams were hoping for when they drafted Long second overall in the 2008 draft, with Long's speed around end showing up all afternoon.

Pittsburgh CB Ike Taylor. "What an incredible job by Ike Taylor,'' Ryan Clark said of his teammate after the 25-17 win over the Patriots. "He got Wes Welker so frazzled out there.'' Taylor, playing the NFL's leading receiver all over the field, held Welker to six catches for a paltry 39 yards. Taylor was on the second tier of free-agent cornerbacks this season and signed with Pittsburgh when there wasn't widespread interest for him.

Special Teams Player of the Week

Arizona CB/PR Patrick Peterson

Midway through the second quarter in Baltimore, Peterson took a punt at his 18-yard-line and began zig-zagging, first right, then straight and then left, breaking four tackles and getting hit by two other Ravens on the most electrifying run of the day in the league. His 82-yard touchdown showed why he was such a high pick last April. It was his second punt return for touchdown in seven NFL games.

Coach of the Week

Philadelphia offensive line coach Howard Mudd. On crutches on the sidelines after hip-replacement surgery 13 days earlier, Mudd did a pregame chest-bump with running back LeSean McCoy, then did what he does best. He got after his troops and coached them to open holes and keep Mike Vick clean. The Eagles, playing the best team in the league against the run coming into the game, rushed for 235 yards and gained 495 in a 34-7 rout of the Cowboys.

Goat of the Week

Carolina K Olindo Mare. With Minnesota up 24-21 and 29 seconds left in the fourth quarter in Charlotte, Mare lined up for a piece-of-cake 31-yard field goal. It was about 31 inches wide left. Not exactly why the Panthers gave Mare a $4 million signing bonus ... and a four-year, $12 million contract before the season.

"It's pretty humbling. That's as bad a game as I've ever been involved with from the offensive side.''

-- Washington coach Mike Shanahan, after his team was whitewashed by the Bills 23-0. It was the first time in 267 NFL games that a Shanahan-coached team was shut out.

"I do not plan on coaching next year ... I plan on being in the same seat next year.''

-- CBS analyst Bill Cowher, on "The NFL Today'' pregame show Sunday.

The one quote Cowher needs to utter if he wants to stop all the speculation -- but he won't, and he shouldn't -- is this one: "Under no circumstances will I coach in 2012.'' Why shouldn't he? Because how does he know if the perfect opportunity will arise in January -- a team that has a terrible year but has a chance to turn it around quickly, maybe beginning with the drafting of Andrew Luck?

"A ton, a ton, and I love every bit of it. I really look forward to the opportunity to prove the naysayers wrong and Hue right."

-- New Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer, on radio station 95.7 The Game in the Bay Area, after being asked about the pressure that comes with the job of being handed the responsibility for getting the Raiders in the playoffs.

"We're probably going to be known as the team that was one strike away. I hate that, but that's probably how we will be remembered."

-- Texas Rangers reliever Mike Adams -- a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fans -- as he stood at his locker after the Rangers lost Game 7 of the World Series in St. Louis. He referred, of course, to the Rangers twice being one strike away from winning the Series in six Thursday night.

Back in the olden days, we all thought the Eagles would go to seed without Brian Westbrook. Just goes to show no one in this game is irreplaceable. Watching the Sunday night game, it occurred to me that LeSean McCoy, in the Eagles offense, is the perfect replacement as a runner and receiver for Westbrook, and these numbers illustrate that.

McCoy was a part-time starter in his rookie season, 2009, out of Pitt. Since the start of the 2010 season, McCoy has played 22 games. I compared his production in those 22 games to Westbrook's peak-production seasons, his 15-game 2006 season and the first seven games of 2007. Here's the comparison:

Warren Moon was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2006. The most yards he ever passed for in one NFL season was 4,690. Cam Newton is halfway through his rookie season. He's on pace to throw for 4,786 yards.

So my wife and I finally moved into our apartment on the east side of Manhattan (so fun to move during the season), and two interesting encounters happened on move-in day:

1. While I waited with golden retriever Bailey outside a D'Agostino's food store for my wife to get a few things, a stream of customers leaving the store noticed Bailey and threw out a "Good dog,'' or "What a well-behaved dog,'' or whatever. Then one woman, about 75, came out and looked us both up and down. I smiled at her and said, "Hi.'' Bailey smelled her shoes. The woman gave me a disgusted look and said bitterly, "Jesus Christ.'' And walked away. Ohhhhh-kay.

2. I went online to order cable/internet/telephone service and found myself in an IM chat with a technical person about the various options for cable sports tiers. The guy wasn't understanding my questions, and so after a while I said, forget it -- if this is the wrong thing I'm ordering, I'll just call and change to what I want. The guy, quite conscientious, wrote back, and I quote, "I am sorry for incontinence cost to you.''

No problem. I'm feeling rather regular, sir. In fact, it was all worth it, because, as column fodder goes, this was a pretty good note.

"Andrew Luck makes it look so easyyyy.''

-- @PrinceAmukamara, the rookie cornerback of the New York Giants, watching Saturday night's triple-overtime Stanford win over USC.

"Andrew Luck looks pretty good out there. He has that Eli look on his face though. It's unassuming. Makes him sneaky good."

-- @RyanRClark, the Pittsburgh safety, also during USC-Stanford.

"You know who doesn't suck? #Luck''

-- @MikeVacc, New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro, after the game.

"No one is "Tanking the season"... that's absurd conspiracy theory mumblings...Suck4Luck doesn't exist n Indy.''

-- @JimIrsay, the owner of the 0-8 Colts, after another debacle of a loss Sunday in Tennessee.

1. I think this is what I liked about Week 8:

a. Interesting story in the Los Angeles Times about Jim Harbaugh by NFL maven Sam Farmer. It's got this good quote from Harbaugh about how to handle success: "We're definitely worried about it. Dangers lurk, no question about it. The thing we just stress is keep climbing; we don't want to hang on. Like a rock climber, it takes more energy to hang on than to keep climbing.''

b. Good nuggets by Jay Glazer (Ndamukong Suh requested a meeting with the NFL to find out why he's getting fined) and Charlie Casserly (Shawne Merriman will be called before a Congressional panel if it convenes a hearing on human growth hormone use in the NFL) and Adam Schefter (that Bengal boss Mike Brown had to be talked out of drafting Ryan Mallett on draft day) on the pregame shows.

c. Matt Hasselbeck's back-shoulder throw is beautiful.

d. Kevin Kolb threw a textbook back-shoulder job, too, to Early Doucet. Fantastic.

e. You are one party animal, Ron Winter. Doesn't he look like a barrel of fun?

f. Quite a savior you are, Steven Jackson, recovering a fumble near the goal line and then running it in on the next snap, giving your desperate Rams a 10-0 halftime lead.

g. Best player on a losing team, early games: Miami linebacker Kevin Burnett. Ten tackles, two in the backfield, a pass deflected.

h. Andre Carter is one of the biggest bargains in recent free agency history. Two sacks for the Patriots on Sunday.

i. Hard to give DeMarcus Ware much notice after his team got demolished. But four sacks of the elusive Michael Vick is absolutely amazing.

j. Ware (12 sacks in seven games) and Allen (12.5 in eight games) are both on pace to break Michael Strahan's single-season record of 22.5.

k. Another strong game in the middle of the Houston offensive line for center Chris Myers, the most unknown very good offensive lineman in football. The Jacksonville defensive front had been recently very difficult to gash, and the Texans rushed 39 times for 156 yards.

l. Speaking of Texan difference-makers: How about Jonathan Joseph? The Houston secondary has gone from a sieve to foreboding, holding teams to a league-best 50.8 percent completions.

m. Eli Manning, who threw some beautiful balls Sunday, would have had a 400-yard day had his receivers caught all the ones in their hands. He threw for 345.

n. Frank Gore. Just keep feeding the man.

2. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 8:

a. That's just the way I like to go into a very big game against a pass-happy Steeler team -- cutting one corner (Leigh Bodden) and IR-ing another (Ras-I Dowling) in the 48 hours before the game.

b. Not your fault, Aaron Rodgers. But I nominate that State Farm commercial for least-funny-commercial-trying-to-be-funny of the 2011 season.

c. That's being charitable.

d. Speaking of embarrassing TV moments, I think we all know the reason Kris Jenkins did the Halloween sketch on the CBS pregame show. Shannon Sharpe said, "Please! I beg you! Don't let me mar my TV career again with the Halloween sketch!"

e. Is there a soul in America who thought that moment had more than one uncomfortable chuckle in it?

f. Linval Joseph: Can you think of one good reason in the middle of a play-ending scrum to dive in and spear the ball carrier? I mean, unless you want to get a flag for unnecessary roughness?

g. So you want more playing time, Brandon Jacobs? You want the ball more? Sure have a funny way of showing it.

h. Wrap up, Malcolm Jenkins. That's going to be an embarrassing non-tackle against the Rams when you look at it in the team meeting room this week.

i. Blaine Gabbert, 10 of 30. The man played hurt with bruised ribs, which is noble. But it's a production game.

j. Chris Johnson. Only man in the top 50 NFL rushers to average less than three yards per rush. And it's way less -- 2.82. Which leads me to ...

3. I think I am amazed to say this, but Chris Johnson is just another guy. I've watched enough of him through eight weeks now to say that with confidence. He's making no one miss. He's not fighting for a single extra yard. If his name were John Doe, and the Titans coaches were comparing him to all the other backs on the roster, I'd be stunned if they played him over Javon Ringer. Just watch Johnson, the 34th-leading rusher in the NFL. Tell me he's either totally lost his drive, or he's saving himself so he can play out his full, and very rich, contract.

4. I think most of you probably missed this. I missed it, and I was right there. Dan Patrick noted on NBC's Football Night in America Sunday that Tom Brady threw a BB to Rob Gronkowski. A BB. Think about it ... One other back-patting note from Sunday night -- Al Michaels saying that Mike Vick told him and Cris Collinsworth that of his 45 rushes entering Sunday's games, zero were called runs.

5. I think there's a pretty good chance Tebowing won't be trending much on the internet today.

6. I think it's a cruel world, but the Broncos won't give the Tebow experiment much longer, maybe two or three weeks, unless he ratchets up his completion percentage (46.1). Can't help but think four things:

If Denver's going to give him a chance, the plug cannot be pulled now, because it's just not enough time; three or four more weeks is fair for the investment the franchise made in the 2010 first-round pick -- even though it was a previous coach who drafted him ... Josh McDaniels would have been more invested in making him succeed, and would have a package of plays (dumpoffs to the backs, curls to the tight end) to get him going ...

John Elway and John Fox, neither of whom would have drafted Tebow in the first round, are going to give him enough time under center to show the citizenry they can't move ahead with him as the every-down quarterback ... And I still believe he can be a winning, hybrid player for a good team. Maybe not quite like Brad Smith, because he lacks quickness. But a player who, when the offense is stalled, can contribute with a package of plays that would be hard to defend as a changeup. Maybe an option quarterback.

7. I think, to sum up my knowledge of the what's going to happen in the top of the 2012 draft, it's this: Bill and Chris Polian will show great respect for Peyton Manning, and I expect he'll be the Colts' quarterback in 2012. But I do not think they'll pass on Andrew Luck if they have the chance to pick him at No. 1. In fact, it would stun me if the man who went out on a limb to bring Jim Kelly, Kerry Collins and Peyton Manning into the NFL (that's Bill Polian) would pass on the quarterback some scouts believe is the best quarterback prospect in the last quarter-century. How do you sleep at night knowing you let that player get away?

8. I think the question Colts fans have to ask themselves about passing on Luck in favor of, oh, say, three No. 1 draft choices from some team, is this: How long do we think a quarterback who will be 36 on opening day, with three necks surgeries in the previous two years, will last?

9. I think the Eagles had the look of a deep-into-January team Sunday night.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. Heard an ad for "5 Hour Energy Decaf'' this week. I mean, tell me: What's the point? Isn't that like a salty milk shake?

b. Lane Kiffin complains way too much.

c. I was stuck without a TV, moving in, on Thursday, and so I didn't see one of the best baseball games of our lives. But I did hear Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Bobby Valentine on ESPN Radio, and they did a terrific job. Shulman is absolutely outstanding -- and not just on the big calls. He does a fine job on the rhythm of the game and bringing the analysts in. His questioning of some of the Rangers' moves in the last couple of innings was on point.

d. And my question for Ron Washington is: What is this obsession with intentional walks? You had too much respect for the St. Louis hitters. And to not bring Neftali Feliz back for the 10th inning of Game 6, with a two-run lead? To throw Darren Oliver instead? That's inviting offense.

e. If you'd have told me two months ago David Freese would be a post-World Series guest on Jay Leno, I'd first have said, "Wait. Who does he play for?'' That's what 21 postseason RBIs will do for you -- as well as one of the biggest home runs in recent baseball history.

f. Wasn't this Game 6 far more dramatic than the 1986 Game 6? That one had one incredible moment -- the Buckner error. This one had three or four of them. Two were the Cardinals springing to life when they were down to their last strike of their last out of the season, rebounding from two-run deficits in the bottom of the ninth and 10th. And then the Freese home run. Just a fantastic sports moment.

g. What I loved best was his teammates were so excited about the winning hit that they ripped the jersey off his back. They did. The jersey the Hall of Fame will be getting from Freese from that hit? A shredded and torn one.

h. I asked Bob Costas where Game 6 lands in his pantheon of ballgames: "No worse than a tie for first. There's the Buckner game in '86, and the Kirk Gibson game in '88, but that's really only one at-bat. And there are others. But this thing had everything. The fact that it was poorly played early on adds to it. The fact that there were debatable decisions early on adds texture to it. The team on the brink twice, on their last at-bat with two strikes and two outs, twice. The home team won, which adds to it. Sometimes in baseball, it comes down to the 10th guy on the pitching staff, or the last guy on the bench. And that's what happened. And that's one of the things that makes it so thrilling.''

i. Coffeenerdness: Try as I might, I couldn't break my 10-espresso-shot record Sunday and into this morning, writing this column. I stalled on eight. Caffeine weakling -- that's what I am.

j. Beernerdness: I must be the most interesting man in the world, because I have recently given Dos Equis a shot. More flavor than I remembered. Best with a lime, I think.

k. Still haven't seen Moneyball, Ides of March or one episode of The Office. You'd think it's been a busy fall or something.

San Diego 33, Kansas City 20. Never in September did I think I'd write this sentence this season: The Chiefs haven't lost in 36 days. I probably won't be able to write it again this year, but it was fun while it lasted, wasn't it? I am picking this game on blind faith, because after watching the Chargers cough up that game last week in New Jersey, you've got to figure that Philip Rivers starts being Philip Rivers again soon. Like, tonight. But part of Rivers having a shot against the resurgent Chiefs is Ryan Mathews carrying his load, because San Diego's going to need to take a voracious crowd out of the game, and the way you do that is with some long drives early. Mathews is the key to those.

Close

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