• COULD THE PACKERS BE TOO BEAT UP TO BE GREAT? The Packers enter a brutal stretch of games -- Miami, Minnesota, at Jets, Dallas -- with a concussed quarterback, their best pass-rusher with a hamstring injury, a rookie left tackle, a running game with major question marks, both top tight ends out for at least three weeks with injuries, and ... isn't that enough?
The biggest question is whether Aaron Rodgers will play this week after suffering a minor concussion on his last throw Sunday at Washington. Coach Mike McCarthy said it's possible Rodgers will miss practice this week and possibly the game Sunday against the Dolphins. That would give 2008 seventh-round pick Matt Flynn his first NFL start, and it would come against a healing Dolphins team with a good pass-rush, coming off its bye.
The passing game was already in dry dock anyway; the man who is supposed to be Rodgers' favorite target, Greg Jennings, has nine catches in the last four games, and he seems peeved about it. Lucky for the Packers they've got three of the next four at home. There's not much other good news on the horizon for them.
• JENN STERGER'S FEELING TORMENTED. I spoke to her manager, Phil Reese, last night, and he said all options are still being considered regarding whether the former Jets sideline hostess is going to cooperate with the league's investigation into the Brett Favre case.
"I don't have a crystal ball,'' Reese said. "I can't tell you what's going to happen. But I can tell you she doesn't like having her name dragged through the mud like this. I just want to help her be able to breathe.''
The best resolution for the Vikings and Favre is going to be the best for Sterger too -- that the league's investigation goes quickly so all involved can get on with their lives, whatever the decision is. Will the league's investigation end if Sterger doesn't cooperate? Not necessarily, because if the league can prove that Favre sent the incriminating photos -- perhaps with any information they can glean from an interview with Deadspin.com editor A.J. Daulerio -- commissioner Roger Goodell will still be able to act.
• BRETT FAVRE LOOKS TORMENTED. It's hard to know whether Favre's painfully slow start in the 29-20 loss to the Jets was due to his bum elbow, the Jets' pressure defense, the Vikings' inability to consistently execute their blitz-pickup, or the challenges of playing with the league's investigation of his 2008 experience with Sterger.
But reading his body language, he wasn't happy that kicker and good friend Ryan Longwell spilled to Michele Tafoya that he apologized to his teammates Monday morning, emotionally, for the Sterger distraction. So he was ticked off about that, and certainly about the Sterger distraction, and we haven't even gotten to the pain in his throwing elbow that won't go away.
"This is probably the worst it's felt,'' he said of the elbow, but he might have been talking about any number of things in his life right now. The Vikings are 1-3, facing a vital game Sunday against the Cowboys. And you've got to think Favre walked out of the stadium in New Jersey last night with this going through his head: I wish I never came back this year.
• SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH THE SAINTS, AND IT'S NOT GOING AWAY. New Orleans, through five games last year, scored 192 points. In the 3-2 start this year, the Saints have scored 97. It's amazing that the absence of Reggie Bush -- out until November with a broken fibula -- has meant so much.
Watching the Saints play, the one difference I see is so few receivers running free downfield, and so few receivers in intermediate areas with space around them. Last year, what was so striking about this offense was Drew Brees always finding a relatively open man. We watched the middle get cleared out for Jeremy Shockey by, say, Robert Meachem. And this year, though Brees is just as accurate as last year, the Saints are running the ball for a yard less, on average, and throwing the ball for two yards less per completion than last year.
Without Bush being able to stress the defense by attracting an extra linebacker or safety in coverage -- especially when he forces foes to change positions by motioning before the snap -- the Saints are missing the change-up pitcher that made their offense so explosive. With a dangerous game at 3-1 Tampa Bay Sunday, the Saints have to find a way to overcome the offensive flaws until Bush returns.
• I THINK I KNOW WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE COWBOYS. It's the run-pass ratio. This is a team that spent the offseason touting its three-pronged run game, with good reason. Through the 1-3 start, none blowouts, Dallas is running the ball on 33.6 percent of the offensive snaps. That's ridiculous. Felix Jones has touched the ball 45 times in four games. What is wrong with this picture? Starting Sunday in Minnesota, the Cowboys have to start giving Jones, Marion Barber and Tashard Choice the chance to possess the ball and rule games.
• VINCE YOUNG IS THE DIFFERENCE IN TENNESSEE. The Titans are getting lots of help from unknown defenders too -- journeymen Jason Babin and Dave Ball have combined for 10 sacks in five games -- but the real reason they've started strong has been the efficiency of Young. If he can complete 62 percent all season (his five-game rate) and limit his interceptions (two so far, with six touchdowns), the Titans know their offense will be the perfect combination to win.
Watching Young at Dallas, I thought he looked so much smoother as a pocket quarterback, and so much more confident about where to go with the ball. That's a great sign for Tennessee in a division that suddenly has a couple of shaky teams at the top. The Titans, by the way, play at Jacksonville on Monday, and then don't play another division game for six weeks. Five of their six post-Thanksgiving games come against division foes.
Now for your e-mail:
•HE DOESN'T LIKE TED THOMPSON. "Would you please comment on the inept Ted Thompson in Green Bay. While the stats for the Green Bay running game look fine on Sunday, I guarantee a faster back (Marshawn Lynch maybe) would have scored on the 71-yard run by Brandon Jackson. A poor running game means we have no balance as a team and will make us incapable of running time off the clock in the fourth quarter of an important game in late December at Lambeau Field.''-- Mike Kochanski, Tucson
I'm on record agreeing with you -- I think the Packers should have offered a third-round pick for Marshawn Lynch and outbid Seattle for him. But Thompson values draft picks more than that. We'll see how much this ends up affecting their season.
• DIFFERENT STORIES, I THINK. "You have a great column but you missed the boat in one regard this week. You commended Raiders Tyvon Branch for returning a fumble for a touchdown against the Chargers. However, did he really make the proper play? Branch recovered the ball with a little over one minute left in the game, at the Oakland 36-yard line, when San Diego had 2 timeouts left. The TD put the Raiders up 8. If Branch had simply fallen to the ground after recovering the ball (and avoided the possibility of fumbling, a risk that only a few sentences later in your column you chastised Rodgers-Cromartie for taking), the Raiders could have whittled the clock down to maybe 10 seconds left and punted to the Chargers, who in all likelihood would have had to travel 50 yards in a few seconds to set up a field goal.
"Granted, it's nice to have the security blanket of knowing you at least can't lose in regulation, and a lot can go wrong when you're punting, but wouldn't falling on the ball have greatly increased the Raiders chances of winning the game? We see this every week in the NFL, defensive players not understanding the consequences of what they do if they ever get the ball. Sometimes it will burn their team, as it did for San Francisco, and sometimes teams get lucky enough to overcome such absent-minded plays.'' -- Michael, Brooklyn, N.Y.
I got this comment from a lot of people, but I think the situations are different. In the Saints game, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie intercepted a ball with 24 seconds left with the Cardinals ahead and the Saints having no timeouts left. All the Cardinals would have to do there is kneel once and the game is over, yet he wove through traffic, risked a fumble and scored a meaningless touchdown.
In the Raiders game, Oakland was ahead 28-27 with 70 seconds left -- with San Diego having two timeouts -- when Branch picked up a fumble and ran (untouched, I believe) for a touchdown. Had he knelt there, and I'll approximate the time here, the Raiders would have taken over at their 36 with 65 seconds left. Let's say Oakland ran the ball on three straight plays, or took a knee. Oakland would have punted to the Chargers with something like 15 or 20 seconds left, down a point. Let's say they fair-catch the punt at the 25-yard line with 12 to 15 seconds left. That's maybe two plays to get in position for a long field goal. To me, I'm very comfortable with Branch trying to score, assuming, of course, he secures the ball above all else on the runback.
• DEFENDING COFFEE. "One comment about Glen Coffee. I think he should be given the benefit of the doubt at this point in time. I don't think most of the story has come out yet, but the crime seems to be an unregistered pistol. A crime, yes, but nothing major. A small fine and he's done. I'm in no way defending having an unregistered hand gun; I just think it's a little early to be calling out the faith of a guy who just quit the NFL in order to pursue missions work.''-- Hudson Moore, Nashville
I suppose, but I happen to take an unregistered, loaded, cocked handgun within reach of a driver a little more seriously than that.
• I DON'T CARE IF A DIVISION WINNER IS BELOW .500, AND IN FACT, IT MIGHT BE FUN. It's not a matter of if, but how many teams will win their division and/or make the playoffs with nine wins or less? Even worse, should the league do anything to prevent a possible 7-9 team winning a division from hosting a playoff game? I can see the NFC West with a 7-9 division winner.''-- Dru Remsburg, Tampa
Lots of teams have made the playoffs with nine wins before. Hardly unprecedented or even surprising. But I could see an NFC West team winning the division at 7-9. In fact, if I had to guess right now, I'd predict that it has a better chance of happening than of one team in that bunch winning eight or nine games.
• SHE MAKES A GOOD POINT. "In your MMQB October 11 article, you state that money raised for the Wounded Warriors organization will benefit "wheelchair-bound veterans." This type of language is outdated and inappropriate. It implies dependence and inability. These men and women are not wheelchair bound, they are wheelchair users. They get out of their chairs to sleep in beds, drive cars, sit on couches, ride roller coasters, etc. Certainly you wouldn't describe an able-bodied individual as "shoe bound" just because shoes make mobility easier. As a person with the power to reach millions of readers each week, you have the ability to help eliminate this type of discriminatory language.''-- Erin Ryan, Pittsburgh
Good point. Thanks.
• CALLING FOR A FAVRE SUSPENSION, IF GUILTY. "In regards to the Brett Favre situation, he must be suspended if he is found guilty of the acts in question. Here is why: this is a classic case of one employee in a powerful position (franchise QB) sending sexually explicit material to an employee in a low-level job, especially if the massage therapist claim is true. Did she have the ability to turn down his request for a massage after he sent her this material? How uncomfortable did she feel just trying to do her job afterward? This is why these rules against sexual harassment are in place.
In any corporation, he would be fired immediately if found guilty. This is not a case of what a man does on his own time. If he had sent the same photos to a woman he met at the bar or socially, then I agree that I dot care what he does on his time, and he should not even fined. However, sexual harassment in the workplace is an issue that every career woman has faced at some point, and most of us downplay in order to advance our careers. It is a major issue that should not be swept under the rug.''-- Jody, Aurora, Ill.
I don't think the NFL is going to sweep it under the rug. The question is, does this rise to the level of suspension under the NFL's personal conduct policy if, for the first time since 1996, a player runs afoul of the NFL behavioral policies? That's what Roger Goodell is going to have to decide -- that plus the potential seriousness of the charge, obviously.