Who says superstar quarterbacks are a dying breed in the NFL? Just call the Seattle quarterback Charlie White-hurts. Who's leading the coaches' dead pool? And toast could be the operative words in Houston and Philadelphia.
Week 9 is upon us and as far as storylines go, this week's Top 10 Storylines will be a Randy Moss-free zone. No promises about next week, though.
Perhaps the most profound testament to just how bizarre and balanced the 2010 season has been so far is that the location of where we begin Week 9 is as much the storyline as the storylines themselves.
1. One of the NFL's best and longest rivalries is relevant again. Yes, Chiefs vs. Raiders. And subplots abound. In three NFL seasons preceding this one, the Chiefs and Raiders combined for a record of 24-72. The Chiefs and/or Raiders generally were the NFL's biggest laughingstock. But today, they're looking down at the Broncos and Chargers in the AFC West. Not since Art Shell and Marty Schottenheimer roamed the respective sidelines in 1994 have both teams finished with a winning record. But the Raiders can sneak within shouting distance with a win Sunday at the Black Hole.
Go ahead and question the hot starts for these teams if you must. But without question, this game will feature more running back talent and production than any other. The Chiefs are led by Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles and rank first in the league in rushing yards per game. The Raiders, with Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, are second. Oakland has won its last two games by a combined 92-17, and McFadden has led the way, rushing for 276 yards.
Which team will play the cleanest game? And, no, we're not talking about the vicious hits rule being enforced with more authority. Want to know the real reason these two squads are in the midst of turnarounds? They don't turn over the ball. Despite counting on the run so heavily, the Chiefs and Raiders have lost just three fumbles combined. Meanwhile, Matt Cassel is tied for third in the league for fewest interceptions, while Jason Campbell is fourth. All they do is win, baby.
This quarterback matchup doesn't exactly conjur up images of Daryle Lamonica and Len Dawson slinging it all over the yard. It's reasonable to wonder if Cassel and Campbell are the long-term answers. In fact, despite Campbell's impressive wins against the Broncos and Seahawks, Raiders coach Tom Cable waited until late in the week to officially name him the starter over Bruce Gradkowski. Still, in his last three games, Cassel has thrown for 546 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions. In his last two, Campbell has thrown for 500 yards, four touchdowns and zero picks.
2. Another Jim Kelly-Dan Marino QB rivalry in the making?Josh Freeman and Matt Ryan have a long way to go. But Tampa Bay at Atlanta could offer a glimpse into the kind of in-division quarterbacking showdown the league, and specifically these two franchises, can use. They both are young. They both were drafted as franchise-savers. They both have big arms and, more than anything, have keen leadership abilities that make teammates want to follow them.
3. Lineman and kickers may decide Dolphins-Ravens. Yeah, they're not exactly the glamour positions. Nobody buys tickets with bated breath, eagerly anticipating to catch a glimpse of the big uglies or the little former soccer players. Still, Miami's offensive line has not given up a sack since Week 4. Against a Ravens defense that is not pressuring opposing quarterbacks anything like it has in the past, that could be huge. And as for the kickers, Miami's Dan Carpenter could be a huge factor. He's made five field goals in consecutive games, hit 13 in a row during one stretch and Friday was named the AFC's special teams player of the month. Baltimore's Billy Cundiff has been terrific as well and is the conference's best at booting the ball into the end zone for touchbacks. In a game that will surely be decided by field position and defense, that's huge, too.
4. Brad Childress looks like the coaching dead pool winner. Childress has gone from the NFC championship to the brink of getting booted? That's apparently what will happen if Childress suffers a home loss to the Cardinals after a turbulent week. The big news was the Vikings waived Randy Moss. Bigger news came when reports surfaced that Childress made the decision without consulting owner Zygi Wilf. Childress may well be facing his Bill Lumbergh moment if he cannot pull out a victory against the 3-4 Arizona Cardinals. Ah. Yeah. Ummmm. So I guess we should probably go ahead and have a little talk, hmm?
5. Another fine mess for James Harrison and Troy Polamalu? On Monday night, no less, Steelers at Bengals brings added punch to the stage. The Bengals will be fighting to break out of a huge first-half funk, while the Steelers hope to keep up with the Ravens atop the division. But the underlying theme surely will be Harrison's continued disregard for Roger Goodell's tougher stance on violent hits. Harrison already has written $100,000 worth of checks. And after Polamalu said this week that Goodell was part of the problem with his unilateral control issuing fines, rest assured Polamalu will be watched so closely, his hair may even be fined for being out of control.
6. Donald Brown and Dimitri Patterson may be more important than Peyton Manning and Michael Vick. We know the marquee players in this one and in so many ways it's a wonderful match of contrasts between Michael Vick's scrambling and throwing, and Peyton Manning's pocket presence and professorial approach to the game. And yet Brown, a third-stringer making his first start in place of the injured Joseph Addai and backup Mike Hart, could be a crucial part of the Colts' success on the road. Ultimately, they're going to have to run the ball. On the other hand, Patterson is a journeyman in every way, working on his third team after spending time on practice squads and in backup roles. He'll start in place of the injured Ellis Hobbs. Start your back-pedaling now, Dimitri. Manning isn't one to sympathize with your predicament.
7. We really thought Packers-Cowboys might be an NFC title game preview? Cowboys receiver Roy Williams still believes, saying this week he believes the Cowboys will win nine straight games. But with Jon Kitna at quarterback and Wade Phillips not exactly known for getting the most out of his players even when times are good, this has all the markings of an ugly loss for the Cowboys. The Packers are headed up the NFC ladder, playing much better football, and the Cowboys are going in the opposite direction.
8. Philip Rivers probably won't have Antonio Gates -- but will he need him? In the midst of a monster season, the Chargers tight end was listed as doubtful on Friday, after not participating in practice for the third straight day. That's the bad news for Rivers, who leads the NFL in passing yards and is second to Drew Brees in touchdowns. The good news is he's facing a Texans secondary that ranks dead last in the league by far and has been torched regularly. The Texans' only chance in this one is to force turnovers, which they do not do very often, and pound the ball with Arian Foster against the NFL's second-best defense against the run.
9. Will all the progress we've seen from the Buffalo Bills finally pay off? There's no question the 0-7 Bills are an improved team in every way, except the one that matters most. They are coming off two consecutive overtime losses and have played the Patriots, Ravens and Chiefs extremely tough. They surely wish Shawne Merriman could start this week, given the Bears' porous offensive line and Mike Martz's offense penchant for getting Jay Cutler sacked. Merriman, picked up on waivers, will not play. Still, the Bills are getting nice play out of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who likely will be key, considering the one thing the Bears do well is stop the run.
10. Is that Charlie Whitehurst starting in Seattle, or Charlie White-hurts? To paraphrase the infamous Yankee Roger Clemens, the Giants' front four have been eating quarterbacks like Skittles. With Matt Hasselbeck ruled out with a concussion, Whitehurst gets his first NFL start against the most ferocious front four in the league. Oh, it gets better. On Friday, one tackle, Russell Okung was ruled, "as doubtful as you can get," according to Seattle coach Pete Carroll, and the other tackle, Tyler Polumbus, will be a game-time decision. Good luck with all that, Charlie.