My weekly look at key matchups and storylines to watch in one game at each time slot. (All times Eastern).
Sunday 1 p.m.Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts
The Titans have been on a roll since handing Vince Young the keys to the car five weeks ago, but they haven't had to play a team of Indy's caliber during that span. Though Young has been clutch in his second go-round as the Titans' starting quarterback, his co-star is do-it-all running back Chris Johnson. He is simply the best back in football, better even than Adrian Peterson. Johnson's November may have been the best month by a running back we've ever seen. Seriously.
The problem for the Titans is they are playing a team that seemingly can't be beat, no matter how many times it looks as if they are finally going to suffer their first defeat. Indy has come from behind to win so many times recently that it almost defies explanation. One of the keys has been their opportunistic defense led by AFC Defensive Player of the Month Robert Mathis. In fact, look for their turnover creating defense to be the difference in this matchup of the unbeaten Colts and unbeaten Vince Young.
Sunday 4:15 p.m.San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
I know many of you will be watching Cowboys vs. Giants in the late slot. Understandably so. The Giants are absolutely desperate for a win coming off their miserable performance on Thanksgiving against the Broncos. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have a brutal stretch of games coming up and December hasn't exactly been Tony Romo time in recent years. We'll see if this year is different.
But I'd advise you to check out the Niners-Seahawks game if you can, and not just because I am making my debut on Fox as the color commentator alongside veteran play-by-play man Chris Myers. The Niners are almost an entirely different team, at least offensively, from the one I saw in Week 3 against the Minnesota Vikings. The smash-mouth power running game has been replaced by a spread shotgun attack featuring Alex Smith firing darts all over the field to Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Josh Morgan. All of the Niners' skill people will be looking to avoid Seattle middle linebacker David Hawthorne, who may be the best player in the league that most fans have never heard of. Hawthorne's nose for the football and bad attitude once he arrives jumped off the film as I studied Seattle this week.
Sunday 8:20 p.m.Minnesota Vikings at Arizona Cardinals
Yes, the Vikings have lost once, but my eyes tell me Minnesota is the best team in football. I recognize the Colts are undefeated and the Saints just walloped the Patriots, but I think the Vikings would have a great opportunity to beat either team on a neutral field. They have no weakness, except maybe their defensive backfield, though I think even that will be minimized once cornerback Antoine Winfield returns to full strength.
One of the great phrases in the NFL is that father time is undefeated. But both Brett Favre and Kurt Warner are putting up a good fight . Favre is playing probably the best football of his career, which is insane for a guy who is 40, throwing the ball to guys half his age. Warner has been the key to the Cardinals' success this season, and if Arizona hopes to defeat Minnesota, he'll have to be on the field and play well. Here's hoping he and Favre get to put on a show.
Monday 8:30 p.m.Baltimore Ravens at Green Bay Packers
Both of these wild-card hopefuls are hard to figure out. The Ravens have enjoyed a breakout year by Ray Rice and still have loads of talent, especially defensively, yet they've lost too many close games, last week against the Steelers notwithstanding. Even though they won that game, it's not exactly encouraging that a Pittsburgh squad quarterbacked by a third stringer took them into overtime.
The Packers seem to be back on solid ground after a midseason slide in which they couldn't block anyone and quarterback Aaron Rodgers showed a propensity for holding on to the football way too long. The bounce back has been led by the even keeled Rodgers, who is having an outstanding season. But it hasn't been just Rodgers. Both Charles Woodson and Donald Driver have been amazing and also appear to be holding off father time for a couple more years of Pro Bowl-caliber play.
Back to your mail and tweets after a one-week holiday hiatus ...
Why do you think successful coordinators are so inclined to ditch their team whenever a head coaching position becomes available? Is it the pay? The potential glory? The need for total control? Why not just stick with your team and be successful as a coordinator, a position which very rarely comes under fire from the press?
Take Eric Mangini. Imagine if he'd stayed with New England all these years rather than working these tumultuous head coach tenures in New York and Cleveland. Had he remained a Patriot, he might be one of the most respected defensive minds in the business and beloved figure in Foxboro. Instead, well... you get the picture. What's your take on this?--Arnold G., Portland
The main motivation is no doubt financial and I don't blame anyone for leaping at the chance to attain lifetime financial security. Secondly, I really don't think many coaches get into the business with the dream of being an outstanding coordinator some day, though many end up finding a comfort zone in that role and staying in it. The natural tendency in most walks of life is to want to be the guy calling the shots and having the final say.
I really enjoy your columns, this one especially is another example of how you can bring the inside story of playing in the NFL to the rest of us arm-chair flag-&-fantasy-football athletes. My question: how do players reconcile the idea that if they are actually pretty hurt, and then try and gut it out and play a poor game anyways, this could still put a black mark on them. In other words, is it better to hide your injury and play poorly, or disclose that you're not 100 percent, sit down, and try and recover enough to help the team win later in the season?--Sandy McNabb, Calgary, Alberta
It depends somewhat on a player's contract or status with their team. More often than not, the player is going to lean towards playing because it is often difficult for them to recognize if they are not playing up to par. Plus, again depending on the player, the coaches realize that 80-90 percent of one player may be better than 100 percent of his backup, so they encourage the injured player to gut it out for the best interests of the team, even if it may not be in the best interests of the player.
I'm curious about your thoughts on the center's head-bob. It seems that more and more centers are bobbing their heads right before the snap. Isn't this a potential advantage for a defensive line that is looking for it?--Brent, Edmond, Okla.
Defenders look for it and try to time it. The problem is that offenses have adjusted so that they now have a number of ways to use the head bob. They can snap the ball a full count after the center's first head-bob, which is customary, but they can also call "Silent 2" and wait to snap the ball a full count after the second bob. There is even a "Quick Silent" in which the ball is snapped as soon as the center bobs his head. Confused yet? The point is it is much more difficult to time than you may realize.
Does your job now require more travel than when you played in the NFL?--@john_frazier via Twitter
Yes. As a player, I only had 10 roundtrip flights for the entire season, including preseason games. Now, between calling college games, NFL games and taping a show for the YES Network in Connecticut on Tuesdays, I am on a minimum of four flights a week and often more, not to mention train and rental car travel. But I'm not complaining. I love what I do and realize how fortunate I am to once again make a living through football.
Would Parcells take on the total reclamation project AKA Cleveland Browns? What would his motivation be to leave sunny Fla?--@section539 via Twitter
I don't think he will, but if he did his motivation would be two-fold. One would be financial as he would probably get paid a great deal by Browns owner Randy Lerner to take over football operations in Cleveland. The second reason would be that Parcells situations that are so dire that there is nowhere to go but up. It gives him a great shot at putting another notch in his belt, so to speak.