Usually, the Friday 10-pack arrives at some point late in the morning on (drum roll, please) Friday. But since Thursday night’s game was a full-on snooze-fest, I used the 10-pack as my strategy for not passing out at my desk. (The radiation from the double monitor could have fried the glue out of my toupee.)
So here goes this week’s Friday 10-pack, which as usual consists of 10 takes regarding the upcoming weekend of games.
As if you couldn’t have figured that out on your own.
1. Must-win game for the Steelers?
Last year, a Monday night road win in early November pushed the Steelers’ record to 6-2. And then they came home and lost to an eventual playoff team, the Bengals. The Steelers eventually lost five in a row, dropping along the way a home game against the downtrodden Raiders.
This year, a Monday night road win in early November pushed the Steelers’ record to 6-2. And then they came home and lost to an eventual playoff team, the Patriots.
Tying the two seasons together has been a rash of injuries. Last year, the defense took the hardest hit. This time around, the offense is getting the worse of it. Either way, the Steelers definitely aren’t the same team when they’re not healthy, which exposes a troubling lack of depth.
So will the Steelers lose four more in a row and fall out of the AFC playoff map? They need to beat back the Raiders in order to keep that from happening.
This year, the Raiders have a better team, and they’re riding an unlikely three-game winning streak. They’ll be loose and they’ll be confident. And if they manage to build a lead in the first half, the Steelers may not be able to buy Ben Roethlisberger enough time to find any open receivers.
And if the Steelers lose, they may find themselves in a slide from which it will be difficult to emerge, despite a relatively soft schedule that includes games against the Bills, Bengals, and Panthers.
2. And for the Colts?
Fighting through an unprecedented rash of injuries (insert the perfunctory “let’s play two . . . more” comment here), the Colts have managed to win six out of nine games.
But these Colts don’t feel nearly as dominant as the Colts of years past. With a streak of 10-win seasons and playoff appearances extending all the way back to Tony Dungy’s first season as head coach in 2002, the Colts could see both strings end this year.
The key could be Sunday’s annual showdown with the Patriots. If Indy’s patchwork lineup led by a perennial MVP candidate can steal a win that no one expects them to get, the same old Colts could be on track to win another division title — and to secure another first-round bye. Lose, and the Colts will have to scratch and claw their way through games against the Chargers (who seem to always have the Colts’ number), two against the Titans, the Cowboys, the Jaguars, and the Raiders.
So while we all assume that Indy will be in the thick of things come January, this thing can still go very well or very badly, and Sunday’s game in Foxboro may have a lot to do with the eventual outcome.
3. Will Jets’ luck run out?
The New York Jets, without showing much dominance, continue to win football games. After playing nearly five quarters on Sunday in Cleveland, the Jets return home to face a fading Texans team that hasn’t looked very good since beating the Colts in Week One.
But the Jets shouldn’t take the Texans lightly. Last week, the other team from Texas came to the New Meadowlands Stadium and knocked off a superior Giants team.
Houston has a potent offense, but a porous defense. Still, this season has reconfirmed the “Any Given Sunday” vibe that permeates the league. With the Jets not decisively outperforming anyone of late, they may end up having their hands full again against a Texans team that surely would like to settle the score from Week One of the 2009 season.
4. Could Brett limp into the sunset on Sunday?
It’s no secret that Vikings quarterback Brett Favre wants to walk away from the game with a Super Bowl trophy in the back pocket of his Wranglers. Last year, after losing to the Saints in the NFC title game, he tried to sell the idea that calling it quits would equate to “going out on top.”
Even though only one team each year finishes “on top.”
This year, the chances of Favre copying the John Elway-Jerome Bettis feat are, to say the least, slim. So what if Brett and the Vikings upset the Packers on Sunday and Brett decides to do the next best thing to walking off into the sunset with a Super Bowl win?
He could pull out the John Wayne limp, head to injured reserve, and know that, in his final game, he was victorious against the team that no longer wanted him.
We think the chances of that are slim, primarily since pretty much every team now thinks there’s a chance it can run the table. Favre wouldn’t want to consider what might have been, in the event that he calls it quits when the Vikings are 4-6 and technically still very much alive.
But if he wants his last NFL game to feature the soft glow of a setting sun on his increasingly Eastwoodish face, Favre has one option — beat the Packers, and then beat it, for good.
5. The Cowboys’ fate, in six days or less.
Speaking of running the table, plenty of Cowboys fans think that the team that lost seven out of eight games can now win eight in a row.
It’s not impossible, and it speaks to the hope the NFL incessantly manufactures and markets. Whether the Cowboys can get a good start on an unthinkable goal depends on their ability to handle a pair of home games played four days apart.
Sunday against the Lions, Thursday against the Saints.
Win both, and who knows? Confidence begets confidence in the NFL, and two of the final five games feature contests against a franchise the Cowboys beat three times in 2009, the Eagles.
6. St. Pierre soon could be a saint, or a martyr.
The stunning news came on Thursday. With rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen injured and Week One starter Matt Moore already on injured reserve, veteran journeyman Brian St. Pierre will get his first career start.
In seven NFL seasons, St. Pierre has appeared in only two games, throwing only five passes. He was otherwise out of the league, done with football completely, when the call came.
In many respects, he can thank the existence of the UFL for his unexpected opportunity. Otherwise, someone like Jeff Garcia or Daunte Culpepper would have been signed. St. Pierre now faces a no-lose proposition, unless of course the Ravens defense inflicts serious injury — or worse — upon him.
Meanwhile, we’re starting to wonder whether coach John Fox actually wants to go 1-15, in order to make his comeback all the more memorable if/when he gets another head-coaching job.
7. Giants will go after Vick.
Last year, the Saints figured out in the postseason that the best way to disrupt Vikings quarterback Brett Favre would be to pummel him. Repeatedly.
This year, the Giants are realizing much earlier in the year that the same approach could help them tremendously on Sunday night against the Eagles, in their Week 15 rematch, and in the broader chase for the NFC East championship.
Of course, before the Giants can pummel Vick, they’ve got to catch him. Their best chance will come when he runs, especially since he refuses to slide.
Again, they need to be able to catch him.
If/when they get a clean shot at Vick, expect them to take it. Given the Giants’ broader goals, a 15-yard penalty and/or a fine will be a small price to pay to tilt the NFC East back in New York’s direction.
8. “Second act” dies a quiet but definitive death.
Perhaps the best news of the week came from the league office. On Wednesday night, NFL V.P. of officiating Carl Johnson left no doubt about the existence of the “second act” exception when it comes to the hopelessly convoluted rule regarding receptions made while the receiver is falling to the ground.
Instead, the rule is that the player must maintain control of the ball after hitting the ground. The second act exception doesn’t exist — apparently, it never did.
This means, of course, that the Saints got two points in Super Bowl XLIV that the Saints shouldn’t have gotten.
Which means that, when the Colts were driving while down by seven, they should have been down by only five.
Which means that Saints cornerback Tracy Porter may not have been so willing to jump a route when a touchdown would have put the Colts ahead late.
Of course, Johnson didn’t mention any of this. But that’s fine. He’s merely trying to clean up the mess he inherited — and it won’t fully be cleaned up until the entire rule receives a full and complete rewrite.
9. Here come the Chargers.
When the Chargers slid to 2-5 through seven games, we pointed out that, sooner or later, the notoriously slow starters from San Diego would not be able to find the gas pedal.
This year, a pair of wins entering the bye have given the Bolts a burst, and now they get an overmatched Broncos team in prime time.
Next up comes a change to knock off — again — a Colts team against which the Chargers match up very well, putting the Chargers on the right side of .500.
Then comes a trio of home games (including visits from the 5-4 Raiders and the 5-4 Chiefs), which could nail down the Chargers’ annual resurrection.
Now if they can only carry it into the postseason, the Chargers may finally get back to the Super Bowl, and perhaps win the thing.
10. And the Raiders/Chiefs?
It’s been widely assumed throughout the 2010 season that the AFC West will get only one seat at the postseason table.
But take a look at the standings. The Chiefs and Raiders are 5-4. The Chargers are 4-5 and rising fast. The Texans, Titans, and Dolphins are sinking, and the 6-3 Steelers are at risk for an injury-induced implosion.
If the Raiders can knock off the Steelers (sending both teams to 6-4) and if the Raiders and Chiefs can continue to overachieve, the final playoff field could consist of the the four division champs, the second-place team in the AFC East, and the second-place team from the AFC West.
And we guarantee that no one will want to face in the playoffs that second-place team from the AFC West, since that team will have the calm that comes from having absolutely nothing to lose.