With three weeks left in the 2010 regular season and 23 teams still alive for the postseason, there are plenty of story lines going into Week 15.
Since 23 teams are still alive, we thought about presenting 23 story lines.
But then we realized that’s 13 more than 10. So we stuck with 10.
1. Randy Moss has neutered himself.
After being fired by the Patriots and the Vikings and with a one last looming crack at a high-end long-term deal, Titans receiver Randy Moss is watching his words and actions very carefully. And in his desire to avoid getting riled up to the point that he screws up his chances of getting paid, Moss by all appearances has killed his passion and his pride.
The latest example? Moss gladly is stepping aside for second-year wideout Kenny Britt.
“I’m definitely a proven vet,” Moss said Thursday, according to Terry McCormick of TitanInsider.com. “Kenny, this is his second year, and just by his work ethic and the way he studies in the classroom, he wants to make a name for himself. So basically I don’t have a problem with moving out of the way and making room for Kenny. This is his team, it’s not mine. I’m just here to be a part of it.”
Is that what Cris Carter did in 1998, when he was 32 and Moss was a rookie in Minnesota? Carter lined up with Moss and continued to churn up big numbers while mentoring the youngster.
Thus, by turning off his passion to protect himself from an eruption, Moss no longer cares. And it shows.
As a result, he can say “hello” to the T.O. phase of his career. Because we think he’s too proud to wait several months for the phone to ring with an offer for a low-end deal, he could soon by saying “goodbye” to the NFL.
2. Joe Flacco already is an elite quarterback.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco explained on Thursday’s Dan Patrick Show that the third-year pro became a little miffed after he was repeatedly grilled by ESPN’s Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden regarding the things Flacco needs to do to become an elite quarterback. Eventually, Flacco essentially said he’s already there.
And he’s right.
Consider this fact. Entering only his third NFL season, Flacco already has played in five postseason road games. And he has won three of them.
So while Matt Ryan of the Falcons already is regarded as the superior member of the quarterback class of 2008, Ryan is 0-1 in the playoffs. This year, we’d rather have Flacco under center in a money game, especially if that game is being played away from home.
3. Moment of truth for the Colts.
Last year at this time, the Colts were facing the Jaguars in the hopes of pushing their record to 14-0 at a time when the top seed in the AFC already had been clinched. Indy succeeded, barely, before tempting the football gods (and ticking off Commissioner Roger Goodell) by not trying to win the last two games of the season.
Since then, the Colts have won eight games. And they’ve lost nine.
Now, the Colts host Jacksonville in a very meaningful game. Lose, and the Colts will fall to 7-7, the Jags will clinch the AFC South, and the Colts will have to hope for help in the hopes of winning a wild-card berth.
Though many believe that the Colts’ Week 14 win over Tennessee means that they’re back, baby, they barely beat a very bad Titans teams. It hardly means that the Colts have solved their many flaws. If the Colts have indeed overcome their recent slide, they have a perfect chance to prove it.
If the Colts fail, it will be the eighth straight season in which at least one team has gone from last place to first place in one of the NFL’s eight divisions.
4. Sparano’s job could be on the line.
The 7-6 Dolphins have generated a dreadful 1-5 record at home. To continue their climb toward a long-shot (but not impossible, thus the use of the word “long-shot”) playoff berth, the Fins need to win their last two home games against the Bills and the Lions.
If they don’t, they surely won’t see the postseason. And it very well could mean the end of the road for coach Tony Sparano.
With V.P. of football operations Bill Parcells now gone, Sparano and G.M. Jeff Ireland are extremely vulnerable. And if the Dolphins can’t beat the Bills and Lions at home, Sparano (and Ireland, for that matter) could be gone.
The good news? Maybe they’ll be available for Parcells to hire if he takes another job in 2011.
5. Tebow’s performance down the stretch won’t matter.
If Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow gets some playing time in the last three weeks of his rookie season, he’ll have a chance to cement his status as the team’s quarterback of the future.
Or will he?
In 2011, Tebow will be at the mercy of the next coach of the team, just as Jay Cutler was once Josh McDaniels arrived. Though it’s possible that keeping Tim Tebow will be one of the express conditions of getting the job, football coaches have been known to sprain the truth from time to time.
And so it could be that the next coach says all the right things when he’s interviewed and introduced, and then puts into motion a plan that entails not using Tebow and/or eventually trading him.
6. Schottenheimer will be the scapegoat in New York.
In 2008, when the Jets went from 8-3 and flying high to 9-7 and home for the playoffs, coach Eric Mangini took the fall.
In 2010, if the Jets complete their collapse from 9-2 to 9-7 and fail to qualify for the postseason, who’ll get fired?
The smart money is on offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
Already, Scottenheimer is being characterized as “embattled” and “under fire.” If the Jets can’t get to the postseason, or if they lose their first playoff game, look for Schottenheimer to be the former offensive coordinator of the Jets.
Given the Sal Alosi mess, don’t be surprised if others get run out of the building, too.
7. Bradford better than Manning?
In 1998, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning started every game as a rookie. Though he threw for an NFL-record (for a first-year player) 3,739 yards, Manning’s team won only three games, the same number of victories in the season before Manning’s arrival.
In 2010, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford already has led the Rams to six times the wins that the team registered in 2009. And though he likely won’t break Manning’s rookie passing yardage record, Bradford is closing in on becoming only the third rookie to throw for more than 3,000 yards.
He’s on pace to pass for more than 3,500 yards, which would put him at No. 2, ahead of Matt Ryan and behind only Manning. With a couple of huge games with a playoff berth on the line, who knows? Maybe Bradford will end up with a few more yards — and a lot more wins — that Peyton in his rookie year.
8. Tuck rule, revisited.
Cornerback Charles Woodson will make his first visit to Foxboro on Sunday as a member of the Packers. Nine years ago, he played in New England as a member of the Raiders during a prime-time snow-globe game that helped give birth to the Patriots dynasty.
It was Woodson himself who hit former Michigan teammate Tom Brady to force what appeared to be a game-clinching fumble. And then the football-watching world became introduced to the term “tuck rule.” And then the Patriots tied the game to force overtime. And then the Patriots won the game in overtime.
Who knows what would have happened if the Pats had lost that game? Though most of us quit thinking about what could have been long ago, we’ve got a feeling Woodson will be thinking about it a lot on Sunday night — especially with the forecast calling for, yes, snow.
9. Vikes should play in the elements all the time.
Speaking of snow, they’ve gotten a little bit of it lately in Minnesota. As a result, they apparently will be playing out in it on Monday night, 29 years to the day after the last Vikings home game that was played without a lid.
And so a week after getting a glimpse of what life would be like if the Vikings move to a new city when they played a “home” game in Detroit, the locals will get a chance to experiment with outdoor football one night before the first day of winter.
At a time when the NFL has decided to play a Super Bowl in the elements, we think that the Vikings should push for an open-air home. It would be a lot cheaper to build a stadium without a retractable dome and, perhaps more importantly, there would be no risk of snow caving in the roof.
10. L.T. has faded, again.
In August, one of the guys at the center of the buzz (and profanity) coming from the Jets was LaDainian Tomlinson. In his first year with an NFL team other than the Chargers, Tomlinson was running hard during training camp and the preseason.
Then, when the regular season began, Tomlinson made an instant contribution, rushing for 62, 76, 70, 133, and 94 yards in the team’s first five games, with per-carry averages of 5.6, 6.9, 4.7, 7.0 and 4.7 yards. Along with Mike Vick, L.T. was regarded as a top candidate for the league’s comeback player of the year award.
Starting with Week Six, however, the decline commenced. Tomlinson rushed for 55 yards on 16 carries against the Broncos, a 3.4-yard average. After the rest and rejuvenation of the bye week, he got one less yard — 54 — against the Packers, on the same number of carries. L.T. was good for 55 and 57 in each of the next two weeks.
Since then, Tomlinson hasn’t cracked 50, rushing for 36, 49, 47, and 49 yards in the last four games.
For the season, he has 837 yards rushing and 348 yards receiving. Both numbers put him well ahead of Shonn Greene, the presumed starter in the preseason based on a strong postseason in his rookie year. Still, L.T. of late is playing nothing like he did early on, and it makes us wonder whether he’ll have anything left when the Jets make it to the playoffs.
If, that is, the Jets make it to the playoffs.