On paper, Week Seven didn’t present an overabundance of compelling contests. But no matter how interesting, or otherwise, the games look on paper, there are always plenty of things to discuss.
For our purposes, there usually are 10.
It’s funny how it works out that way.
1. Ross shouldn’t want Urban Meyer, and vice-versa.
It’s now a foregone conclusion that Tony Sparano, only three years after presiding over a stunning turnaround in Miami, eventually will be the former head coach of the team. With an 0-6 start and only one win at Sun Life Stadium in 13 attempts since December 2009, it’s only a matter of time before Sparano is sent packing.
Owner Stephen Ross, whose clumsy pursuit of former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh in January significantly undermined Sparano, was spotted standing next to former Florida coach Urban Meyer on the sidelines near the end of Sunday’s “home” loss to the Broncos, sparking speculation that Meyer meets the definition of the superstar coach whom Ross covets.
Neither guy should be interested.
Meyer, who has no experience at the NFL level, quit coaching at Florida due to health concerns. It would be no easier for him at the pro level, where the coaches work even harder — and where the inability to fully utilize the recruiting skills that make guys like Meyer great college coaches becomes a constant source of frustration. (Also, if Meyer values his friendship with Bill Belichick, he won’t set up shop in Belichick’s division.)
Then there’s the fact that precious few college coaches ever succeed at the NFL level. Harbaugh represents a rare exception, likely fueled by the fact that he played for years at the NFL level.
Ross, who has little experience as an NFL owner, should realize that Meyer’s success at the college level won’t necessarily translate. And Ross should have realized that if he lingered on the sidelines for too long with Meyer, Meyer would be perceived by some as a potential candidate for the job — even if he isn’t.
Even if he is, Ross should be avoiding any actions that would advance the perception that Sparano will soon be the former coach of the Dolphins.
Of course, Sparano will soon be the former coach of the Dolphins. But Ross shouldn’t be doing anything to create the sense that soon is coming sooner than later, especially if Ross hopes to stay the course in order to land Andrew Luck.
2. Colts could be sucking for Luck, too.
Through the first six weeks of the season, it seemed that the Colts eventually would get their wins, given that they lost relatively close games to the likes of the Steelers, Browns, Colts, Bucs, and Bengals. But Indy’s seventh straight loss came on a night in which they scored only seven points — and gave up a franchise record of 62.
As the losses mount and the games become less competitive, the question becomes whether the Colts will beat the Dolphins in their respective plunges to the bottom, and whether the Colts (like the Dolphins) are happy to finish last, since last will be the first when the time comes to get Andrew Luck.
If so, the mantra for Jim Irsay, Bill Polian, and company should be the same as it is (or at least should be) in Miami: Stay the course. Keep the coach in place. Don’t change a thing.
Two games against the one-win Jags could ultimately decide whether the Colts get Luck. And so the clear incentive for the Jaguars should be, if they hope to not have to have Luck twice per year, to lose those games.
Though the league surely isn’t inclined to acknowledge the possibility of owners secretly hoping to lose and/or bad teams taking subtle steps to avoid the agony of victory, the NFL needs to be monitoring the situation closely as the season unfolds. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello previously told PFT that the league won’t pre-emptively implement a draft lottery. The question, then, is whether the league would be willing to strip the first-round pick away from any team that is proven to be trying to lose on purpose.
The answer to that question should be yes. The much harder question will be proving it.
3. Peyton should get MVP votes without playing.
Every year, debates emerge regarding the proper determination of the league’s Most Valuable Player. A reader made an excellent point on that point during the Sunday Night Football Extra live chat.
Could Colts quarterback Peyton Manning merit MVP votes by not taking a single snap this year?
It’s an intriguing concept. What better way to prove a guy’s value than to have Clarence the Angel give us all a one-year look at what the player’s team would be without him?
We’ve seen some goofy, wild-hair Associated Press ballots over the years (in 2010, for example, rookie LeGarrette Blount received a vote for comeback player of the year), and it won’t surprise me at all if at least one voter concludes that Manning’s absence proves he’s indeed the most valuable player in the game — far more valuable than Tom Brady, whose team won 11 games without him in 2008.
4. Whisenhunt could soon be feeling the heat.
The Cardinals went all in with Kevin Kolb in the hopes of returning to prominence in the NFC West. Coach Ken Whisenhunt surely realized that the move could go a long way toward determining his future with the organization.
The fact that Jim Harbaugh has taken the reins of the 49ers and immediately converted them into a serious contender will make it harder for more established coaches to justify ongoing struggles. And so, with the Cardinals sliding to 1-5 and the Niners at 5-1, Whisenhunt’s seat at some point will begin to heat up.
In early 2010, the final two years of his original deal were replaced with a four-year contract, putting him under contract through 2013. It’s unlikely that the notoriously parsimonious Cardinals would fund two years of a buyout. (Then again, they’ve done it before.) If Whisenhunt survives the end of the 2011 season, 2012 could become Whisenhunt’s extension-or-extinction year with the franchise.
Here’s hoping the Cardinals give him some more time. He’s a solid coach, and he achieved much more in 2008 and 2009 than the franchise had done since Harry S. Truman was in the White House. Unless the Cardinals find a way to turn things around, however, the questions will begin to arise and intensify.
5. AFC West suddenly is wide open.
In future years, when we all assume based on three or four weeks of football that certain teams will stink and that others are destined to play in late January, we all need to remember the manner in which the AFC West has unfolded in 2011. Before Sunday, it was believed that the Chargers and Raiders would battle for supremacy in the division, and that the Chiefs and Broncos would be jockeying for the basement.
Now, the Chargers have fallen to 4-2 and the hype-heavy 4-3 Raiders stepped into a 28-0 tomahawk from the Chiefs, who had been left for dead at 0-3 and who are now 3-3.
And don’t forget the Tebow-led Broncos, who have climbed to 2-4 in advance of a visit from the suddenly limping Lions.
With 10 games left for three of the teams and nine for the Raiders, any of these four can capture the crown.
6. It could be T.O. time for Titans.
Titans coach Mike Munchak has said that the team could be interested in receiver Terrell Owens. With Owens supposedly healthy, the time has come for the Titans to kick his tires.
After starting 3-1 and losing their last two games by a combined score of 79-24, the Titans need a kick in the pants. It’s apparently not coming from running back Chris Johnson, who gained only 18 yards on 10 carries, and who then deflected the blame for his performance.
If the Titans hope to topple the Texans, the only hope could come from T.O. giving the team a spark.
With no other options for coming close to replacing Kenny Britt, who tore an ACL last month, there’s apparently only one way to go. They need to consider the man who tore an ACL during the lockout.
7. Saints see the downside of running back rotation.
It’s a problem that doesn’t come up often for most teams. What do you do when you’re up by 40 points with more than 20 minutes to play?
The Saints protected quarterback Drew Brees, inserting Chase Daniel late in the third quarter. The Saints also protected Daniel, calling 11 runs for the team’s final eleven plays.
But when a team uses a three-back rotation and running plays are necessary to run out the clock, the running backs need to run the ball, in turn running the risk they’ll be injured. That’s exactly what happened to Mark Ingram, who left with an injury to his heel. And that required the other two backs, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles, to keep running the ball.
Since the Saints have only three running backs on the active roster, they had no choice but to expose every guy in the rotation to the risk of injury. It’s one of the rarely-realized problems with an approach that entails the presence, and regular use, of a trio of big-name backs.
8. Forte keeps proving his worth.
The Bears and running back Matt Forte can’t agree on his value. Meanwhile, Forte keeps proving that his value is closer to his own evaluation of it.
On Sunday in England, Forte racked up 183 total yards from scrimmage, including 145 rushing on a 5.8 yards-per-carry average. For the season, he has 672 yards and a 5.4-yard average.
So where is this one heading? Since Forte hasn’t held out — and surely won’t walk out — the Bears know they’ll get the most out of him in 2011, even as he continues to bear the risk of serious injury. And if he gets through the season unscathed, the Bears can apply the franchise tag and squat on Forte’s rights for 2012 and, if they so choose, 2013, giving him a good raise but keeping him from getting a huge payday, and constantly keeping the injury risk on his shoulders.
By the end of the 2013 season, Forte will be 28 when he walks away, and he’ll be subject to an open market that is very soft for veteran free agents, especially those who are getting closer and closer to 30.
By then, the Bears will be ready to plug in a young tailback who can provide production close to Forte, at a much cheaper rate of pay than what it would take to keep him.
9. DeMarco makes his mark.
With Felix Jones out and Tashard Choice on the trading block before Jones went down, we should have known that DeMarco Murray would get the first crack at proving he can get it done.
And he sure did.
Yes, Choice got the start. But Murray made the most of his chances, from his first 91-yard carry to a final tally of 253 yards on 25 carries.
The question now becomes whether the Cowboys will ride Murray as far as they can, or whether Jones will step back in as the starter once his high ankle sprain heals. Either way, the Cowboys found a much-needed boost, even if it came against a Rams team that has been repeatedly bounced around this year.
10. Fear the Falcons?
After a home loss to the Packers dropped the Falcons to 2-3, many assumed they’d simply fall apart, especially since the reward for turning it around would be another date with Green Bay, this time at Lambeau Field.
Thanks to quarterback Matt Ryan, who has stepped up when the team needed him the most, the Falcons soar into their bye at 4-3 after back-to-back wins over the Panthers and Lions.
Ryan delivered the victory over the Panthers, and he returned from an ankle injury that looked far worse than it ended up being to cement the win in Detroit.
After a week off, the schedule features games against the Colts, Jags, Titans, Vikings, and Panthers again. That’s a recipe for a nine-win season; this team’s ultimate fate will be determined based on its fortunes against the Saints (twice), the Texans, and a rematch with the Buccaneers.
With as many losses in 2011 as they had in all of 2010, the Falcons may have adopted a nothing-to-lose mentality. And that could make them very dangerous, especially if they come across the Packers again.