Every Friday, we take 10 items that would otherwise potentially appear as 10 different items and clump them into one long item aimed at preparing you for the coming weekend of games.
It probably would make more sense to do 10 separate items.
As we ponder that possibility, we give you what could be the last of the Friday 10-packs.
(There, now I’ve built some phony drama that will get people to come back next week. I wonder if I took that medication that keeps me from typing everything I think?)
1. Margin for errors shrinking in AFC.
With one playoff berth earmarked for the AFC West and five spots leftover for the other three divisions, multiple quality teams will be on the outside looking in.
Two years ago, the Patriots found this out the hard way With the Chargers qualifying for the postseason field at 8-8 as champions of a woeful West, six teams with eleven or more wins played musical chairs with five playoff spots.
Despite an 11-5 record, the Patriots stayed home.
That same year, a 9-7 team from the NFC went to the Super Bowl.
This year, 11-5 could be good enough to get in; 10-6 may not be. Thus, teams like the 4-3 Dolphins, 4-3 Texans, and 5-3 Titans are inching toward a crisis situation; they can each lose two more games before potentially having to run the table.
For Miami and Houston, those fourth losses could come this weekend, with tough games against the Ravens and Chargers, respectively.
2. Seahawks get a look at Whitehurst.
Pete Carroll’s Seattle team is doing better than anyone expected, making them a contender in the none-of-the-above NFC West. And just as they get an opportunity to show that they can hang with the best team in the conference (at least when playing at home), quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has a concussion.
Enter Charlie Whitehurst, who’ll start against the Giants.
And so the man who has never thrown a regular-season pass during five years in the NFL will get a chance to prove that the Seahawks made a smart move when trading for a quarterback who was languishing on the San Diego depth chart. Disappointing in the preseason, Whitehurst now has an opportunity to prove that he can do the job come 2011.
It he can’t, Hasselbeck suddenly will have a burst of leverage as his contract moves toward its conclusion.
3. Chilly’s last stand.
After one of the roughest weeks any head coach ever has endured (he can blame himself for most of it), there’s a growing sense that Vikings head coach Brad Childress remains one home loss to the Cardinals away from losing his job.
No one within the organization has suggested that Chilly is on the hot seat, and for good reason. If the Vikings can beat Arizona at home and then the mediocre Bears in Chicago, the November 21 game against the Packers presents the Vikings with an opportunity to climb back to .500 for the first time since the first game of the season, when they were 0-0.
But if the Vikings lose to the Cardinals and slide to 2-6, anything can happen. Despite the new contract Childress received in 2009, owner Zygi Wilf realizes that local support will be critical to getting a new stadium; thus, buying out Childress’ deal should be viewed as a cost of doing business.
Then there’s the possibility — slim but not completely impossible — that the Vikings would find a way to fire Childress with cause. It’s not just a Raiders tactic. Last year, the Browns did it to former G.M. George Kokinis. With the league office presiding over any and all arbitration claims filed by coaches who believe they were unfairly stiffed, the Vikings could choose to take a stand.
Given the present unpopularity of Childress in Minnesota, taking a stand could actually help generate support for a new stadium.
4. Bucs can put their money where the coach’s mouth is.
Recently, Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris said that his team is the best in the NFC. But the Bucs have beaten only three teams in the NFC — the 1-6 Panthers, the 4-4 Rams by one point, and the 3-4 Cardinals by three points. (The Bucs also have beaten the 2-5 Bengals and the 2-5 Browns.)
In turn, the Bucs have lost to the 5-2 Steelers by 25, and to the 5-3 Saints by 25.
This weekend, Tampa gets its chance to prove that it belongs, via a short trip to Atlanta for a game against one of their NFC South rivals. If the Bucs truly belong among the NFC elite, they’ll win this game — or at a minimum come close to doing so.
It’s up to you, Bucs. Make your coach look less delusional.
5. Redskins mess not going away quickly.
Mike Shanahan’s team has a bye this week. But that won’t reduce the chorus of folks who aren’t buying the shifting, inconsistent explanations given for benching quarterback Donovan McNabb.
Five days later, the situation seems no less bizarre. McNabb, the franchise quarterback acquired from the Eagles, was left on the sidelines for a key drive that could have delivered victory in favor of a washed-up first-round pick with a penchant for letting the ball fly, without regard to where it may land.
It’s baffling that the Shanahans, Mike and offensive coordinator Kyle, wouldn’t just tell the truth — that McNabb hasn’t played well and that their frustration with his performance prompted them to decide to send the veteran a message by yanking him from the final moments of a winnable game.
The truth is that McNabb hasn’t played well. His passer rating is 76.0. He has thrown seven touchdown passes and eight interceptions.
Sure, he doesn’t have much of a supporting cast this year. Neither does Peyton Manning.
It’s almost as if the Shanahans are baiting McNabb to blow his top via a stream of conflicting excuses for benching him, possibly to make it easier to sell the ultimate decision to send him packing in 2011.
Actually, it appears that decision already has been made. Otherwise, McNabb never would have been benched for Rex Grossman.
6. Raider uprising.
In Week One, the supposedly new and improved Raiders lost to Tennessee. By 25 points.
Same old Raiders, right?
Their next four games were one-score affairs, two of which the Raiders won, and two of which they lost.
Then came the unexpected. While the rest of the NFL was focused on things like the bone in Brett Favre’s foot and/or the stick in Randy Moss’ ass, the Raiders steamrolled the Broncos and Seahawks, via a combined score of 92-17.
Lately, these aren’t the 2002 Raiders. They’re the 2007 Patriots.
Next up, the Raiders face the 5-2 Chiefs in a game that could go a long way toward determining supremacy in the conference’s weakest division. But if the Raiders can keep playing like they have the last two weeks, the AFC West no longer can be regarded as weak.
7. Packers poised to roll over ‘Boys.
From 1991 through 1996, the Cowboys and Packers played eight times. And the Cowboys won all eight of them.
Packers fans surely will never forget that stretch of futility, and they’ll relish every opportunity to stomp on the Cowboys, no matter how downtrodden they may be.
A week ago, the Cowboys had the table set to get back on track. With reduced expectations after the broken clavicle suffered by quarterback Tony Romo, a wounded Jaguars team came to town. And saw. And conquered.
This week, no matter how much Jerry Jones apologizes, the Packers are the ones who’ll likely have to say “sorry” for inflicting a blowout.
We have a feeling they won’t.
8. Mangini gets his chance to bury the hatchet.
When we interviewed Browns coach Eric Mangini for the first-ever (and possibly last-ever) PFT Season Preview magazine, Mangini said he’d like to eventually patch things up with his former boss, Bill Belichick.
“[Belichick] and I haven’t really talked,” Mangini said. “When I talk about him, he was my mentor. He taught me everything, and I respect him tremendously. That’s not bullshit. That’s how I feel. I hope at some point, we’ll be able to sit down and talk about things and get back to a better relationship.
; It’s not there right now, but at some point, things have a tendency to roll back.”
Mangini gets his chance on Sunday, when Belichick and the Patriots come to town. For some reason, however, we have a feeling that Belichick has used up all his former-employee bear hugs for the 2010 season.
If the Patriots win handily, maybe he can muster one more.
9. Texans commencing slide to irrelevance.
Before the season started, the Texans focused on the Colts. But launching the season against the team from Indianapolis doesn’t justify the Daytona 500 attitude.
Since winning in Week One, the Texans have been mediocre and fading.
The pass rush is non-existent. As a result, the pass defense has been horrible.
It’s now catching up with the offense, which has gotten away from the running skills of Arian Foster and is relying too much on a passing game that isn’t as potent as it was last year.
With the suddenly rejuvenated Chargers riding an upset of the Titans into Texas, the Texans could be destined to end up with four losses after eight games, which is at least two too many if the Texans hope to make their ninth year in the league their first year in the playoffs.
10. Bills will break through, eventually.
Buffalo fans deserve better than 0-7, and it’s been excruciating the past two weeks, with the Bills pushing a pair of five-win teams to overtime in their own houses.
Eventually, the Bills will turn things around. The decision to claim linebacker Shawne Merriman shows that the Bills at least are trying.
And, of course, the Bills probably will have just enough success to blow their shot at the first overall pick in what will be the first draft without the huge windfall payments to the top selections.
Look for the process to start this weekend, with the Bills taking down the Bears.