We've almost hit the midpoint of the NFL season, and while the first seven weeks of action have cemented some teams as playoff contenders and turned others' attention toward the 2015 draft, clarity is a long, long way away.
To get you ready for Week 8 (and an extra-long Sunday of football, with the Falcons and Lions kicking off from London at 9:30 a.m. ET), Chris Burke and Doug Farrar discuss Titans rookie Zach Mettenberger's close-up, which early-season front-runner needs a Week 8 win more and whether the Chicago Bears can turn their ugly start around.
Is Zach Mettenberger the long-term answer at quarterback in Tennessee?
Chris Burke: I'm going to cheat here by giving a non-answer sort of answer for two reasons. First, Mettenberger is a better option for the 2-5 Titans than Jake Locker, whose ticket out of town is all but punched. Second, Mettenberger has a chance to be a pretty solid NFL quarterback, even if the early returns turn out to be a little rough.
Do either of those factors mean that Mettenberger is in the starting lineup to stay? Hardly.
Back to the Locker caveat for a moment. The Titans are not a playoff team with him (or Charlie Whitehurst) under center, that much is obvious at the moment. And they are not going to re-sign him in the offseason when he hits free agency -- if there was any chance left, his shaky play and continued trouble staying healthy have buried it.
So what good does sticking with Locker or Whitehurst, a 32-year-old career backup, really serve? It doesn't make Tennessee better now. It doesn't improve the team for the future.
This is the right move for the Titans. But that does not mean it will work.
Doug Farrar: If the Titans are going to give Mettenberger a full shot at being their starting quarterback, he couldn't be much more different than his predecessor Jake Locker, who the Titans have moved past. Mettenberger can read defenses well, he's a tough player who will stand in the pocket and make the contested throw, and he's got a great arm. I'm not in love with his lack of mobility, and I think he struggles to respond to pressure around him, but he showed enough in his first preseason -- 48 of 67 passes completed for 659 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions -- to get a legitimate shot if the Titans are truly unhappy with their other options.
I'll say this: Mettenberger reminds me in some ways of an embryonic Philip Rivers, and Rivers gives Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt full credit for regenerating his career in 2013 when Whisenhunt was San Diego's offensive coordinator. Given his history with quarterbacks, if Whisenhunt believes that this is the move to make, I think he and his new guy deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Who needs a win more in Week 8: Bengals or Seahawks?
Burke: At first glance, Cincinnati -- a game against a division rival with first place on the line always looms largest. In reality, though, the answer is Seattle.
Take a glance around the respective AFC and NFC landscapes. A loss would drop the Bengals to 3-3-1, riding a four-week winless streak and two games back of Baltimore in the division. But the Ravens still would be within striking distance, and Cincinnati actually might leave Week 8 in possession of a wild card spot even with a loss.
The same cannot be said for Seattle. The defending champs are facing the prospect of falling three games out of first place in the NFC West ... and it appears that both the NFC East and NFC North are going to push for multiple postseason bids this year.
Last year, Arizona missed out on the playoffs at 10-6. That record might be the absolute floor for an NFC wild card spot, and if they lose Sunday, the Seahawks would have to finish 7-2 over a stretch run that includes trips to Kansas City, Philadelphia and Arizona, plus a home-and-home with San Francisco looming.
Already, the Seahawks are answering questions about their locker-room camaraderie, in light of the Percy Harvin trade. Pile on another loss, and their season will be pushed to the brink.
Farrar: Probably the Seahawks, because the NFC West is tougher than the AFC North, but both of these teams are struggling to maintain their identities, and it's showing on the field. The Bengals have the talent on both sides of the ball to win without injured receiver A.J. Green, but they've strayed from their preferred offensive plan, which is to run the ball, get the big plays off play action and test defenses with route complexity. Similarly, the Seahawks are missing their dependence on the run game -- because that's how they're built -- and their defense has been struggling unusually.
Seattle has to travel east for an early start for the second straight week, which doesn't generally go well for them, but the Panthers' defense should be vulnerable enough to allow the Seahawks to escape with a win. If not, the Super Bowl champs stand at 3-4, and it's a new narrative in the Emerald City -- and not a pleasant one.
The Bengals have a tiff this Sunday with the Ravens, the rival they're chasing in the AFC North. Cincinnati won the Week 1 contest, but the Ravens seem like the far more solid team right now, and it will be a challenge to avoid a 3-3-1 start to the season.
True or false: The Bears can right the ship this season.
Burke: True, but only if they somehow manage to split their next two games at New England and Green Bay, and only if Jay Cutler locks into one of his hot streaks for a multi-week run, and only if the defense finds a way to limit big plays.
In other words, it's a steep uphill climb ahead for the Bears. The schedule does them no favors, either, especially given their inability to win at home -- they're 0-3 at Soldier Field, where five of their final eight games will be played. Included in those five remaining home contests are a three-week gauntlet against Dallas, New Orleans and Detroit. Were the schedule Chicago's lone concern, everyone would be far less inclined to hit the panic button. Headed into Week 8, this is a frustrated team that is not particularly good on either side of the ball.
More stunning turnarounds have happened, but the odds are still stacked against the Bears.
Farrar: False. The Bears have lost three of four games, and their defense is problematic at best. They haven't run the ball well or often enough, Bad Jay Cutler has shown up too often of late, and when you add in the recent reports of blame being cast around in the locker room after the team's 27-14 loss to the Dolphins last Sunday, it's tough to imagine a scenario in which Chicago turns it around.
The Bears play the Patriots this Sunday, travel to Green Bay after their Week 9 bye and still have games remaining against the Cowboys, Saints, and two against the Lions -- who look like one of the best teams in the league right now. This is the first major test for second-year head coach Marc Trestman, and it's up to him to direct his estimable roster talent in the right direction. At this point, it looks like a tough go.