Throughout the 2010 NFL season, SI.com's Nick Zaccardi will work with Jerome Bettis to get the six-time Pro Bowl running back's observations about the latest happenings in the league. Bettis retired from the NFL in 2006 after a 13-year career and is a semifinalist for the next Hall of Fame class.
• The Chiefs are catching my eye and could tangle the AFC playoff race. I thought the Chiefs were a flash in the pan after that 3-0 start, but they enter December at 7-4 and still leading the AFC West. I've been waiting for them to fall apart, like the Broncos did last season (started 6-0, finished 8-8). It hasn't happened yet, and it may not happen at all because they're so balanced.
The Chiefs are the No. 1 rushing team in the league by far, and they've got a receiver in Dwayne Bowe who's catching touchdowns every game. Since Week 3, Matt Cassel has thrown 18 touchdowns and one interception. A defense made up of players once labeled as underachievers has come together and played quite well, too.
But ... the Chargers are breathing down their necks. What they did to Peyton Manning Sunday night was just as eye-opening, and they've been able to consistently shut him down in their last few meetings. We saw the 2010 NFL MVP play last night, but it wasn't Manning. It was Philip Rivers.
Few predicted it before the season, but two AFC West teams could make the playoffs. If the Chiefs and Chargers keep winning (with favorable late schedules), the Steelers or Ravens, who play in Week 13, could be squeezed out of the playoffs. That's what makes this week's game between Pittsburgh and Baltimore crucial. In Week 14, the Chargers host the Chiefs (a rematch of K.C.'s 21-14 stunner in Week 1), so we're about to learn a lot about the AFC.
• The NFL should have suspended Andre Johnson. I know Johnson is a really, really quiet player, and I have never heard anything disparaging about him. I also know that Cortland Finnegan is a very, very aggressive player with quite a reputation. But when helmets are off and punches are thrown, the league needs to send a message with its punishment. By handing out fines, it failed to do so.
Players around the league will take note of this and, coupled with Richard Seymour's slap-on-the-wrist $25,000 fine for shoving/punching a quarterback, know how far they can take their actions without facing a suspension. Not only does this create the potential for more unacceptable violence, but it also becomes a nightmare for referees trying to keep control of games.
• I like that Andy Reid called out DeSean Jackson in front of the entire team. I don't like that it was leaked to the media. Incidents like that, which are more frequent than you may think, need to stay in house.
Why am I, an ex-player, siding with Andy Reid? Because sometimes a player needs to be held accountable in front of his peers. The coach needs to humble the player to get the response he wants out of him and the rest of the team. Believe me, the whole locker room is thinking that if a star like Jackson can face that kind of criticism, everybody is under the microscope. If you're a backup linebacker on special teams that didn't play well, you'd better believe there are going to be consequences after Reid watches special teams film and sees you're not hustling.
And that's exactly the message the coach wants to send.
When I was a sophomore at Notre Dame, Lou Holtz called me out in front of the team. He thought I got too much press, and I really hadn't done anything to earn it. He told the team I thought I was the best thing since sliced bread, that my selfishness was going to cost us a shot at the national championship. It shocked me. Afterward, he pulled me aside and said he only singled me out to motivate me. It worked. I was so hurt by it that I busted my butt and turned my level of play up.
• I don't think the Patriots and Broncos are the only teams spying. I can't specifically finger anybody else, but the fact that Bill Belichick disciples are all over the league shows that possibilities exist. The fear that somebody was spying was definitely in the back of our minds when I played with the Steelers. I remember flying out to Seattle and doing a walkthrough to get acclimated to the environment. When we went out there, we ran some generic plays, but we goofed off the majority of the time. Coach Cowher kept it very basic, and part of the reason was just in case somebody was watching.
• A few more quick thoughts ...
--I'm honored to be one of 26 semifinalists for the Hall of Fame. I've been asked to state my case, and I'll say this: There was no one that looked like me and did what I did at my position in my era. That's special in this league. The biggest starting tailbacks were 230 or 240 pounds, and I was playing at 260. Now that I'm gone, people are classifying players as Jerome Bettis-like. Any time you can create a category, you've changed the game. Now everybody wants a big back on their roster. Before I played, that wasn't the norm.
-- The Vikings have quickly rallied around interim coach Leslie Frazier. Brett Favre running hard for a first down on his bad ankle and Adrian Peterson jumping up and down on the sideline after getting hurt were signs of a new attitude.
-- Colt McCoy over Jake Delhomme right now. Andrew Luck over Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2011.
-- My top game for Week 13 is, predictably, Steelers at Ravens. The winner of this game wins the division, and the loser faces a realistic chance of not making the playoffs. The Ravens beat the Steelers 17-14 in Week 4, but they didn't have to face Ben Roethlisberger. He'll make the difference, and Pittsburgh will win this time.