Well, I guess I’ve got no choice but to keep doing it. More of you are reading this new feature (which is nice), and hardly anyone is complaining (which is even nicer — and incredibly rare).
And so here’s the Week Seven “Three and Out,” a contrived set of three questions and answers for each of the Sunday games.
“Where’s the Monday game?” someone invariably will ask in the comments. It’s not there; this covers Sunday games only.
This week features another 13 Sunday games. Which means 39 questions and answers for me to write and you to read. I’ve taken care of my end of the bargain. You’re up.
Falcons at Ravens
1. How are the Falcons getting ready to face Gary Kubiak’s offense?
Glad you asked. Kubiak coached the Texans, and Falcons backup T.J. Yates led Houston to its first ever postseason win as a rookie. So Yates has served as the scout-team quarterback, helping the Atlanta defense prepare for an offense heavy on zone blocking, one-cut runs, and roll out passes.
Given the recent struggles of the Atlanta defense, any extra edge helps.
2. How often are the Falcons running the ball?
Not often enough. At 36.4 percent, only the Jaguars and Raiders have run the ball less often.
“I think any time you can be a more balanced offense [it can] get us out of a rut and put us where we feel we don’t have our backs against the wall and we are not one-dimensional,” running back Steven Jackson said this week. “Any time you can be more balanced it helps everyone out from Matt [Ryan] all the way down offensively.”
With 56 more yards, Jackson becomes the 19th player in NFL history to rush for 11,000 in his career. With the Falcons throwing so frequently, that may take a while.
3. Is Arthur Blank getting upset?
Yes, which could be bad news for everyone currently working for the Falcons’ coaching staff and front office.
The coaches should be more concerned, since Blank believes the Falcons have the talent to be better than 2-4. Which likely means that he believes the coaches aren’t getting enough out of the players. Which could result in Mike Smith getting out of Atlanta.
Bills at Vikings
1. Are the Bills getting ready to trade C.J. Spiller?
Apparently. The Bills aren’t using the former top-10 pick, who’s in a contract year. Which has generated speculation that he’ll be dealt to a new team on or before the October 28 trading deadline.
The Bills perhaps would want someone in return who could help Buffalo become a postseason contender, but that could make it harder to find a suitor. Making it easier would be the typical compensation for current players — one or more draft picks. For G.M. Doug Whaley, it makes more sense to get a 2015 pick by trading Spiller than waiting for a potential compensatory pick in 2016, if he signs elsewhere in March. There’s no guarantee the new owners will keep Whaley into 2016. (Then again, there’s no guarantee they’ll keep Whaley into 2015.)
Potential destinations (speculation alert) include the Ravens, Browns, Colts, Chargers, Broncos, Giants, Eagles, Panthers, Cardinals, and maybe even the Harvin-free Seahawks, who once acquired a running back from Buffalo who has had a pretty big impact in Seattle.
2. What’s going on with Mike Williams?
No one really knows. Williams, who once quit on a Syracuse team coached by Bills coach Doug Marrone, was a healthy scratch on Sunday against the Patriots. Then, G.M. Doug Whaley said Williams has asked to be traded. The, Marrone said Williams hasn’t asked for a trade. Then, Williams said his agent has pushed for a trade.
Then, ESPN.com reported that Williams got no practice reps on Wednesday. Then, Marrone disputed that, sort of.
So add Williams to the list of guys who are potentially available before October 28.
3. Who’s emerging as the top running back in Minnesota?
For now, it’s rookie Jerick McKinnon, who carried 11 times against the Lions. Matt Asiata, the prior top option in the wake of the Adrian Peterson rabbit-out-of-the-rump paid suspension, had only one rushing attempt vs. Detroit.
Coach Mike Zimmer wants to increase Asiata’s numbers and decrease McKinnon’s on Sunday against the Bills. Regardless, neither guy will be confused with Adrian Peterson, whose absence has in many ways derailed what could have been a promising season in Minnesota.
Dolphins at Bears
1. How will the Dolphins replace Knowshon Moreno for the rest of the year?
They’ll largely do what they did when Moreno, who has a torn ACL, was out with a dislocated elbow. Lamar Miller will become the starter, with Daniel Thomas and Damien Williams pitching in.
The Dolphins also have LaMichael James and Orleans Dawka on the practice squad. Either or both eventually could be bounced up to the active roster, depending on the ability of Miller, Thomas, and Williams to stay healthy.
2. How long until Ryan Tannehill isn’t the quarterback of the Dolphins?
Possibly not very. The eighth overall pick has struggled more often than not. Next May, the Dolphins have to decide whether to pick up the fifth-year option on Tannehill’s contract, pushing his 2016 salary into the $15 million range, guaranteed for injury.
Look for the Dolphins to keep him around for 2015, since his salary for next year fully guaranteed. Then again, because Miami held firm to get offset language in his contract, they’d make some of that money back if he’s cut and ends up playing elsewhere.
3. Will the Bears demote their top linebackers?
Probably not, but they’re likely tempted. In a 27-13 win over the Falcons, Khaseem Greene played well in place of Lance Briggs. Darryl Sharpton was more than competent while subbing for D.J. Williams. Christian Jones got the job done while replacing Shea McClellin. For now, these backups will remain backups. But the Bears now have six proven commodities at linebacker — seven if we include Jon Bostic, who also was injured last week.
Saints at Lions
1. Will Jimmy Graham play?
It’s not as clear that he won’t as previously believed. Over the weekend of the team’s bye week, reports emerged that Graham, who suffered a sprained shoulder in Week Five, could miss a couple of games. But the Saints have held out hope for Graham to play this weekend against the Lions, listing him as limited in practice on Thursday and Friday, and as questionable for Sunday’s game.
It could be a ruse aimed at making the Lions think they’ll see Graham, forcing them to spend time planning for his presence. Which could make the Lions’ defense less prepared to face the offensive players not named Jimmy Graham.
2. When will Calvin Johnson play?
Coach Jim Caldwell has said it will take a miracle for Johnson to play this week. And that’s not a surprise; Johnson has made it clear that he will rest his sprained ankle until he can perform like he always has when healthy.
It’s smart for Johnson to resist playing at less than 100 percent. If Megatron never makes an appearance this season, the Lions will be less inclined to carry a $20 million-plus cap number into 2015, and other teams would be reluctant to pay him anything close to it.
3. How fired up is Reggie Bush to face the Saints?
Far more fired up than he’d admit. Sure, the Saints made Bush the second overall pick in the 2006 draft, paid him a ton of money, and eventually got him a Super Bowl ring. But the Saints never really let Bush develop the way he wanted as a running back, using a platoon that limited Bush’s touches and created the perception that he’s not able to carry the load on a regular basis.
Eventually, the Saints traded a 2012 first-round pick to select Mark Ingram in the bottom of round one, Bush tweeted out a farewell, and he later was traded to the Dolphins.
Bush will be a captain on Sunday, an external sign of the strong feelings he’ll surely keep to himself but that will nevertheless motivate all he does. And he won’t be alone when it comes for former Saints now with the Lions. As listed by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, running backs Joique Bell and Jed Collins, defensive backs Danny Gorrer and Isa Abdul-Quddus, special-teams coordinator John Bonamego, and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi also have spent time with the Saints.
Lombardi was there the longest, and Lombardi has been warned not to be too cozy with his former players.
“The quarterbacks told me that I get fined for every hug, so I’m going to try to keep those to a minimum,” Lombardi said this week. “Just try to wave and shake hands.”
Panthers at Packers
1. Will Cam Newton keep running as much as he did?
No one knows. Including offensive coordinator Mike Shula.
“I feel like I ran him too much, and yet I didn’t run him enough,” Shula said in the aftermath of Sunday’s game at Cincinnati, in which Newton ran 17 times for 107 yards.
The good news for the Panthers (and bad news for their opponents) is that Newton may only get better.
“He’s talented and he’s still not 100 percent,” Shula said. “I think he made it through OK so I hopefully he’ll keep getting better.”
2. Can Clay Matthews improve his sluggish sack total?
Perhaps not this week. Matthews’ one-sack performance to date possibly results from the number of zone-read offenses the Packers have faced.
“You’re playing so much into this zone-read offense that you’re always reading the quarterback and the running back and seeing what they’re throwing,” Matthews said this week.
He’ll be doing that again against Newton and the Panthers on Sunday. Which could mean that his season-to-date sack total will remain at 1.0.
3. Will Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams ever play at the same time again?
Possibly not. But with Williams still nursing a high ankle sprain, Stewart is ready to return after missing three games.
For the season, Stewart has only 88 yards rushing in three games. Williams has 106 in two games. Their quarterback got more than either of them in the team’s most recent game.
Bengals at Colts
1. When will A.J. Green play again?
No one seems to know. Questionable for Week Six with a sprained toe, Green is doubtful for Sunday’s game at Indianapolis — a downgrade in status even though he hasn’t practiced or played.
On Friday, coach Marvin Lewis said that the “time is up in the air” regarding a potential return from the injury.
Maybe it’s just me, but these toes injuries seem to linger longer than they used to. It’s probably the media.
2. Should Vontaze Burfict have his head on a swivel?
Probably. As NFLPA president Eric Winston said on Friday’s PFT Live, opponents will be keeping their eyes on the Bengals linebacker after he decided to treat pro football like pro wrestling twice against the Panthers. Winston was candid regarding his reaction to Burfict trying to twist the ankles of his teammates; Winston said he would have gone after Burfict.
Players from other teams could try to do it preemptively, hoping to put Burfict on the sidelines before Burfict can do it to a player from the other team.
3. Will Colts keep trying onside kicks?
After successfully recovering three of them this year, yes they will.
Coach Chuck Pagano said in the wake of the most recent recovery — a soccer dribble onto which the man who kicked it fell after 10 yards — that the Colts won’t stop taking advantage of opportunities to keep possession.
“Based on how they lineup and how they adjust, it’s kind of just we’re going to take whatever they give us,” Pagano said. “They’ve got to make a decision on how they adjust. We’ll keep playing with it and try to find a way to steal a play here and there.”
Browns at Jaguars
1. What will the Browns do without Alex Mack?
It’s a question they’d never had to ask until Sunday. Mack had participated in every offensive snap of his career until breaking a leg against the Steelers.
With Mack now on injured reserve, the job falls to John Greco, a former third-round pick of the Rams. He was traded to Cleveland after three seasons.
“I don’t think we ended on bad terms,” Greco said this week of his time in St. Louis. “It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, this guy was a freaking bust.’ Maybe I was. I don’t know. Obviously, I was or I’d still be playing there.”
If he plays center well for the balance of the season in Cleveland, it won’t matter.
2. Are Jacksonville’s receivers finally healthy?
Amazingly, yes. Actually, the Jags had a full complement of healthy receivers last Sunday in Nashville, with Cecil Shorts, Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Ace Sanders available together for the first time.
Robins saw the most action, with 70 of 77 snaps. Shorts had 61, Hurns had 49. Lee was on the field for 16, and Sanders had only five.
For now, it’s unclear how much those numbers will change in Week Seven against Cleveland.
3. Can the Browns avoid a letdown?
It’s impossible to know, because the Browns haven’t been in this position in years. A win would put them at 4-2 for the first time since 2001.
After years of being the trap in a trap game, the Browns now try to avoid a trap in Jacksonville. Losing to the winless Jags would reverse the perception of the Browns, dramatically. With the Raiders and Bucs coming to Cleveland for the next two games, now isn’t the time for the team to play down to the level of competition with a combined record of 1-16.
Seahawks at Rams
1. How do the Seahawks replace Percy Harvin?
It’s not a big problem because they never really saw much of him. He played eight games since arriving in March 2013, and he contributed only 225 yards from scrimmage this year.
Against the Cowboys, Harvin had three catches and three rushing attempts for a total of minus-one yard.
Last year, the Seahawks thrived without Harvin. While he had a major impact on the offense in the Super Bowl, most of the success came from the defense and other aspects of the offense.
Whether it’s addition by subtraction or simply a non-issue, the Seahawks must not be concerned about life without Harvin, since they embraced the opportunity to get rid of him.
2. Didn’t you used to be Chris Givens?
For years, the Rams have been trying to find a solid stable of receivers. While they were trying to improve, Chris Givens was putting in the work, leading the team in receiving in 2012 and finishing second in 2013. But with Brian Quick emerging and Kenny Britt in the fold and Stedman Bailey stepping up and Tavon Austin healthy, Givens has been a healthy scratch for two straight games.
“Yeah, I was surprised,” Givens recently said. “It’s a business — these things happen. It was tough to deal with. Definitely it was a humbling experience. At the same time, it’s bigger than me.”
But not much bigger. With Givens doing less, the Rams are still worse.
3. Is Jeff Fisher on the hot seat?
Only one person truly knows, and he never says anything. Owner Stan Kroenke keeps his cards close, doing things when he chooses to do them without much advance warning.
The Rams were respectable in Fisher’s first two years, going 7-8-1 and 7-9 in the NFL’s toughest division. This year has been a free fall, however, with the Rams at 1-4.
Still, Fisher likely will stay, for a couple of reasons. First, he’s only in the third season of a five-year, $35 million contract. That makes for a pricey buyout. Second, with the team potentially moving to L.A. as soon as 2015 (another topic on which Kroenke will say nothing), who better to preside over the transition than the man who coached the Houston Oilers through their move to Tennessee a generation ago?
Titans at Washington
1. Could there be a Colt McCoy sighting this weekend?
Defenses quickly figured out Kirk Cousins, and he hasn’t been able to adjust. He also hasn’t been able to stop making huge mistakes. And it eventually could result in Cousins taking a seat before starter Robert Griffin III is ready to return.
Coach Jay Gruden hasn’t ruled out benching Cousins, if the blunders continue.
“Obviously if things continue in this downward spiral, there is always a chance to see Colt,” Gruden said this week.
That’s not enough to add Colt McCoy to your fantasy team. Apart from the fact that it’s still Colt McCoy.
2. Did Washington blow it by using the franchise tag on Brian Orakpo?
Yes they did. Orakpo earns $11.455 million in guaranteed money this season. So far, he has generated 0.5 sacks, no interceptions, and no forced fumbles.
Jason Reid of the Washington Post recently argued that the blame for this mistake should land on the desk of team president/G.M. Bruce Allen. It’s hard not to wonder, given the overall state of the franchise, how much more time Allen’s link to the late George Allen will keep him on the job.
3. Good guys — and bad teams — wear white?
The Titans are so blah and boring that the only question I could come up with relates to their choice in uniform color. They’ve donned white every game this season, and they’ll presumably do so again on Sunday at Washington, where a home team that once always wore white at home has gone with burgundy in recent years.
“It’s an ownership decision, and those things are put in way ahead of time,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said this week. “I know if you can catch a team in a dark jersey when it’s 90 degrees, it’s an advantage. But to be honest with you, that is one of the things that really doesn’t matter to me. Whatever we wear, we wear.”
Chiefs at Chargers
1. Should the Chargers be concerned about facing the Chiefs after a bye?
Absolutely. Coach Andy Reid has a record of 13-2 after a bye week, which means he knows how to make the most out of that extra time. Jon Ritchie, who played for Reid in Philly, said this week on NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk that Reid devotes the extra time to self-scouting, spotting his own trends and tendencies and shaking things up.
A win at San Diego would definitely shake things up in the AFC West.
2. Should the Chargers exhale at 5-1?
No way. While the schedule to date hasn’t been crammed with cupcakes, the combined record of their last three opponents is 1-17.
Moving forward, it won’t be that easy.
“It picks up,” quarterback Philip Rivers recently said.
Still looming are two games against the Broncos, a visit from the Patriots, and a Harbaugh Brothers Road Trip, with visits to Baltimore and San Francisco. If the Chargers are going to make a run at the top of the conference this year, they definitely will have earned it.
3. How close is Jamaal Charles to history?
Surprisingly close. Charles need only 53 yards on the ground to become the Chiefs’ all-time rushing leader. (Priest Holmes holds the mark currently, with 6,070 yards.)
“I don’t want to jinx myself,” Charles recently said, pointing out that linebacker Derrick Johnson blew out an Achilles tendon only 15 tackles from 1,000. “I just want to go out and play football, and let it happen itself.”
Giants at Cowboys
1. Can DeMarco Murray stay healthy?
That’s perhaps the biggest question facing the Cowboys. He missed three games as a rookie, six in 2012, and two last year. In 2014, he’s averaging 30 total touches per game. For his career before this season, he averaged 17.7.
So he’s touching the ball nearly twice as often as he ever has. If he stays healthy, it’ll be an upset far bigger than the victory in Seattle that rattled the Seahawks badly enough to dump Percy Harvin.
2. How important is the offensive line to the Cowboys’ success?
Far more important than the offensive line gets credit for. Then again, they’re finally getting some credit; left tackle Tyron Smith became the first lineman to win an offensive player of the week award in a decade.
They could get even more credit if/when injuries start to erode the unit. Right tackle Doug Free will miss some time with a foot injury. Smith has an ankle problem that won’t keep him out of action, for now. If/when the offensive line begins to crumble, it’ll be just a matter of time before Murray and quarterback Tony Romo end up getting crushed.
3. How will the Giants replace Victor Cruz?
Maybe Kevin Ogletree, if they can get him up to speed quickly. Playing for the Cowboys in Week One of the 2012 season, Ogletree had a career night at MetLife Stadium, catching eight passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns in an upset win on the night the Giants raised their most recent title banner. With Cruz done for the year, Ogletree joined the Giants this week.
His ability to make an impact hinges on his ability to learn the offense. Until then, look for Preston Parker to play the slot position that Cruz had mastered.
Cardinals at Raiders
1. What happened to the Super Bowl jinx?
So far, it has yet to kick in for the Cardinals. Oh, the jinx has tried to activate, with injuries and suspensions and a dead nerve in Carson Palmer’s shoulder threatening to scuttle the season. But the Cardinals have recovered — and they’re keenly aware that they have an opportunity to become the first team to host a Super Bowl in its home stadium.
“That’s something that was spoke upon early in the season,” Rashad told PFT Live this week. “The goal was to be at home, sitting in our home locker room, right here at our home facility, warming up, just making like a normal week. So we definitely talked about it early in the year and we definitely know the Super Bowl is here and that’s definitely a goal of ours. To be able to play in it, you know, as the home team and go out and compete and win the thing.”
For now, they’re in pretty good position, with a single loss and sole possession of first place in the NFC West.
2. How’s Patrick Peterson doing now that he has been paid?
Unlike Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, a 2011 first-round pick who seemed to get even better after cashing in, Peterson has taken a step back. And he knows it.
“I do believe I’m not playing to the best of my ability right now,” Peterson said this week, “but that’s definitely going to change.”
That lack of ability included getting burned by receiver DeSean Jackson.
3. Are there any bright spots for the Raiders?
There’s at least one. Running back Darren McFadden, who signed a bargain-basement deal after his bloated rookie contract expired, has emerged as the leading rusher. More importantly, he has remained healthy.
“It may not show in the stats, but this is the best I’ve felt five games into the season,” McFadden said this week. “I don’t have any nagging injuries, nicks or anything slowing me down. I feel like I can go out there and let it loose 100 percent.”
That may not be enough to salvage a lost season for the Raiders, but it could help McFadden get slightly more money from someone in 2015.
49ers at Broncos
1. How close did Peyton Manning come to playing for the 49ers?
Closer than anyone ever would admit. Including coach Jim Harbaugh.
Harbaugh insisted he was merely “evaluating” Manning, obviously in order to keep Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick from realizing how close they’d come to stop being the object of Harbaugh’s affection.
It’s probably good that Manning didn’t pick the 49ers. He and Harbaugh are too much alike; Manning needed a defensive head coach who’d let Peyton run the offense. In San Francisco, Harbaugh and Manning would have banged heads even worse than Harbaugh and G.M. Trent Baalke do.
2. How much will it cost for the Broncos to keep their free agents?
Plenty. Receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas are both having great contract years, and the Broncos have only one franchise tag to use.
Throw in cornerback Chris Harris, who also is playing well as he moves toward the open market, and the Broncos won’t have the cash to spend on new additions. It’ll be all they can do to keep their current guys.
3. Where’s the San Fran running attack?
With a mobile quarterback in Colin Kaepernick, some yards will always be gained on the ground even if every play called was intended initially to be a pass. Beyond Kaepernick and his 242 yards in six games, the 49ers haven’t gotten much production on the ground.
Frank Gore leads the way, as he always does. But he’s got only 403 yards, an average of 67.6 per game. Rookie Carlos Hyde, who was supposed to commence the process of supplanting Gore, has 146 yards and an average of 3.2 yards per carry.
Committing to the run and realizing some success from it could help the 49ers tremendously this week. The more they control the ball, the less time Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will have to generate yards, points, and the three touchdown passes he needs to surpass Brett Favre’s career mark of 508. Surely, Harbaugh (the quarterback in Indy before Peyton became the first overall pick in the draft) doesn’t want to be the coach against whom Manning threw No. 509.