It’s Friday morning. And since the news flow often slows down on Friday morning, we need to fill space.
So we fill space with 10 story lines emanating from the upcoming slate of games.
It’s harder with two or three storyline-worthy teams on a bye, but we eventually found a way to milk the cow this week.
1. Jets could soon be soaring.
After a disappointing Monday night loss to break in their half of the
New Meadowlands Stadium (it’s sort of like Fred and Barney sharing a
swimming pool), the Jets have won two in a row against their primary
division rivals. And they’ve done it with cornerback Darrelle Revis and
linebacker Calvin Pace injured, and with receiver Santonio Holmes on
So what happens when those guys come back?
The Vikings could find out on Monday, October 11, when Holmes definitely
be back — and when Revis and/or Pace could be dressed and playing, too.
Considering the level of play that the Jets have achieved without them,
the Jets could be poised to run away with the division. Until then,
they won’t even have to switch to missiles to shoot down the Bills.
2. Last chance for Mangini?
The Browns have been competitive in each of their first three games. But they’ve lost each one.
After this weekend’s visit from the Bengals, the Browns play the Falcons, Steelers, and Saints. Then comes the bye week.
As a result, a loss to Cincinnati on Sunday would make an 0-7 start
likely, and team president Mike Holmgren could decide to part ways with
coach Eric Mangini. And so Sunday’s game could be Mangini’s last and
best chance to preserve his job beyond October 31.
If the Browns don’t win in Week Four, and in turn don’t pull off an
unlikely upset of the Falcons, Steelers, or Saints, there’s a chance
that, when the Jets come to Cleveland on November 14, coach Rex Ryan
could be looking across the sideline at his identical twin, Browns
defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
3. Running back injuries confirm 18-game season concerns.
With Colts president Bill Polian sparking a belated debate regarding the
wisdom of an 18-game season, one of the primary concerns is (or at
least should be) the impact of two additional games on the short-term
and long-term health of the players.
Indeed, with seven running backs (Steven Jackson of the Rams, Pierre
Thomas of the Saints, Jahvid Best of the Lions, Ray Rice of the Ravens,
Cedric Benson of the Bengals, Fred Taylor of the Patriots, and Knowshon
Moreno of the Broncos) already dinged up after only three games and
Reggie Bush of the Saints out with a broken leg, the league and
the union need to be very concerned about the potential consequences of
additional games on the players who take the brunt of the punishment in
the 16 games that already are played.
Though the move from 14 to 16 games in the ’70s occurred without much public discussion or debate, the three-channels television universe and the absence of talk radio and the Internet fueled that outcome. Besides, players continue to get bigger, faster, and stronger. When they hit each other, the bones and ligaments we all possess are at more risk than ever before.
4. Team of destiny wanted.
Last year, it was obvious after three weeks that the Saints and Colts
were headed for big things. New Orleans hung 45 on the Lions, winning
by 18, and 48 on the Eagles, winning by 26. Held under 30 by the Bills,
the Saints still won by 20.
The Colts started more slowly, beating the Jags by two and the Dolphins
by four. By Week Three, however, the Colts had taken down the defending
NFC champions (the Cardinals) by 21.
This year, none of the three remaining undefeated teams have rolled over
their opponents consistently. The Steelers and the Chiefs won close
games in Week One and Week Two before notching 20-plus point victories in
Week Three. The Bears have won by five points, seven points, and three
The absence of a team that clearly and definitively is taking care of
its business has reinforced the sense of parity that could be laying the
foundation for a playoff run with plenty of teams still alive, and a
postseason in which anything can happen.
For now, the Steelers are the team most likely to emerge as the team to
beat, but first they have to beat the Ravens on Sunday. If the Steelers
can’t — and if the Bears lose on the road against the Giants — the
off-this-Sunday Chiefs could be the only undefeated team left after four
weeks of action.
Somewhere, Pete Rozelle will be smiling broadly.
5. Time for Texans to prove themselves.
When the Texans toppled the Colts to open the season, the team that has
played eight years without a playoff berth seemed to be destined to
finally bust through to the postseason. But then the Texans struggled
to beat a Redskins team that suddenly has inherited the stink of the
Rams, and the Texans lost fairly convincingly to in-state rivals who
were on the ropes, in danger of being punched through.
So are the Texans a contender, or did they merely give the first game of the season the Daytona 500 treatment?
Beating the Raiders won’t mean conclusively that the Texans are legit,
but losing will mean that Houston isn’t ready to hang with the likes of
the Colts and the Titans in arguably the best division in the
conference, if not the league.
6. Desperation shifts from Dallas to New York.
Last week, a strong sense of desperation emerged in Dallas, where the
Cowboys had lost their first two games — and faced falling to 0-3 at
the hands of an upstart team from Houston that had started the year 2-0.
The Cowboys found a way to push the dark cloud away last week, and it
now has settled in New York, over the Rubble half of the Fred-and-Barney
pool. (That’s the third Flintstones reference of the day. And it’s not even 1966.)
The Giants, after beating the Panthers (who have turned out to be
toothless, de-clawed, malnourished house cats), have been spanked by the Colts and
Titans in successive weeks. Only 14 days after losing decisively in
Indy, the Giants cannot afford to be embarrassed again before a national
audience. (On NBC.)
With their backs firmly pressed against the wall and the Bears
overachieving their way through two of their three wins, look for the
Giants to get their act together, if only for a night.
And who knows? Three years ago, the Giants lost their first two games
and gave up 80 points in the process. More than four months later, they
only won the Super Bowl.
7. Fins, Pats face “must” wins.
Yeah, it’s only Week Four. But with the Jets, Dolphins, and Patriots
getting an early start on their round-robin routine, neither the
Patriots nor the Dolphins can afford to drop to 0-2.
The Dolphins need it even more; they play the Jets in New York on
December 12 and the Pats in New England on January 2. Already in danger
of being swept by the Jets, the Dolphins can’t afford to lose at home
to New England, if the Dolphins have genuine designs on winning the
The Patriots need this one, too. But they still get the Jets and the
Dolphins at home. For the Dolphins, the season could potentially be over less than a
month after it began.
8. Loss to Browns could help the Bengals in the long run.
The Bengals, despite their 2-1 record, don’t project the same vibe as
they did a year ago. With a good defense (Week One at New England
notwithstanding) and a capable running back, the Bengals have relied too
heavily on the passing game.
Though T.O. has thrown the offensive line under the bus without overtly
throwing the offensive line under the bus, questions persist regarding
quarterback Carson Palmer. Whether he has lingering elbow issues or he
simply has lost his zip on the ball, the Bengals seem to be in the same
style of denial that plagued the Panthers in 2009, when they refused to
face reality regarding quarterback Jake Delhomme.
And so a loss to the Browns could help jar the Bengals into facing
reality. Eventually, they need to ask themselves whether Palmer
truly represents the future of the franchise at the quarterback
With a base salary of $11.5 million due to Palmer in 2011, we’ve got a
feeling that, win or lose on Sunday, the notoriously frugal Bengals will
think long and hard about paying that much money to a guy who has no
career playoff wins, and whose best days may be fading far behind him.
9. Snyder’s biggest test could be coming.
For more than 11 years, Daniel Snyder has owned the Redskins. And for
most of that time, Snyder has been impatient when it comes to the men
who are coaching the team.
After two years, Norv Turner was dumped. (A playoff appearance likely
saved him in 1999.) Marty Schottenheimer lasted a season. Steve
Spurrier made it for two. But for his resume and Hall of Fame bust, Joe
Gibbs may not have made it four years. Jim Zorn lasted only two.
And throughout most if not all of Zorn’s final year, Snyder was wooing
(or at least planning to woo) Mike Shanahan, the presumed savior of the
In Week One, it appeared to be a brilliant move, thanks to an unexpected
win over the Cowboys. But after blowing a 17-point lead against the
Texans and somehow losing by 14 against the Rams, the Redskins face what
could be a very long day at Lincoln Financial Field.
It gets no easier with the Packers and Colts coming to town, followed by trips to Chicago and Detroit.
Yes, Detroit, where the Lions managed to beat the Redskins in 2009, for
their first win in 22 games. After a bye, the Redskins have the Eagles
again, the Titans, the Vikings, the Giants twice, and the Cowboys
It all easily could add up to a losing season. Though the outcome may
be better than 4-12, it easily could be yet another two-digit collection
of losses. And then Snyder will have to find a way to resist the urge
to act, and to instead commit to staying the course.
Given the open and obvious salivating for Shanahan, there’s no way
Snyder can make a change after only one year. Based on his history,
however, Snyder surely will approach 2011 with questions swirling in his
mind as to whether there might be another guy out there whose name
Snyder should pencil onto the top of the latest version of his wish
10. Rams have a chance to make some noise.
Based on their pattern of three wins in 2007, two in 2008, and one in 2009, the Rams were on track to go 0-16 in 2010.
Already, they’ve blown that trend out of the water by climbing to 1-2.
This weekend, the Rams have a chance to break a 10-game losing streak to
the Seahawks, a string that dates back to 2004, when St. Louis took
three games from their division rivals, include two in the usually
impenetrable Qwest Field.
If they can — and if the Cardinals lose in San Diego — the Rams will
find themselves in a three-way tie atop the division after four weeks.
With three of the next four games against the Lions, Bucs, and Panthers,
the Rams could be on the right side of .500 at the bye. And that could
give them the confidence they need to make a serious run at the
division crown and the postseason home game that goes along with it.
Sure, they likely won’t win the division. But the fact that they won’t
be dead in the water with 25 percent of the season in the books is
nothing short of stunning.