There is no rest in the NFL.
While, the commissioner was in Washington trying to convince public officials he is keeping the game safe, players and coaches -- and yes, even owners -- around the league were making key decisions and plans regarding Week 8 in the NFL season. Here are some of the storylines I will be following:
|Wade Payne / Associated Press|
|Thanks in part to the urging of Titans owner Bud Adams, Vince Young will get his chance to start this weekend.|
1. The Titans get Young
The Tennessee Titans have decided to give a second chance to former first-round pick Vince Young. Actually, the decision was mandated by owner Bud Adams. What are the pressure points for this decision? Does it wreck the longest-standing relationship between head coach and owner in the NFL? Jeff Fisher's tenure in Tennessee may come to an end over the Young decision, but in the meantime he will work hard to help Young experience success.
Will the Titans receivers know what to do when Young scrambles? Will this move force the Jaguars to adjust their game plan? It will, but the Jaguars also know that Young has thrown just one touchdown pass in his last 159 attempts. Don't forget that it was the Jaguars against whom Young made his last start, and it was after that when the Titans opted to go with Kerry Collins.
2. It's hard to beat a team twice
College football rarely has rematch games. In the NFL, division rivals play each other twice a season, and it is very difficult to defeat an opponent twice in the same season. Only last year's Super Bowl participants, the Cardinals and Steelers, swept all three of their division opponents last season. This week, the Jets will try to split with the Dolphins, who won 31-27 in the previous matchup in Miami. The Raiders lost a close game at home to the Chargers in the season opener and will try to end an 0-6 run in San Diego this weekend. The Jaguars put up 37 points against the Titans in Week 4, but now travel to Nashville where Young will be under center.
Last, but certainly not least is the showdown in Green Bay. Forget the Brett Favre storyline for the time being, and consider the damage the Packers' division title hopes would suffer with another loss to the Vikings. Fans should figure on at least two of the teams that lost the first matchup winning in the second.
3. Can they stop the bleeding?
If your favorite team is on a losing streak, then it is time to stop the bleeding. Baltimore has lost three consecutive games, while the Bears and Giants are on two-game losing streaks. These are teams that were expected to contend for playoff spots. It looks as if the Bears have the best chance to turn things around against the Browns in Week 8, but don't be surprised if all three teams find a way to win with their backs to the wall.
4. The essence of the ground attack
This is a pass-to-set-up-the-run league. However, there is always the exception, which will be evident when the Dolphins and Jets play at the Meadowlands. Both teams try to protect young quarterbacks with a running game. The Jets are No. 1 in the league in first-down rushing attempts with 137; 39 of those first-down runs have gone for more than six yards and the team is averaging 5.7 yards per first-down carry this season. This is a major boost for rookie QB Mark Sanchez. The Dolphins rank No. 6 in first-down runs with 105, and have fared better than the Jets with 42 first-down runs of more than six yards. The Dolphins defense has a better yards-per-carry allowed average, but the Jets defense allows less rushing touchdowns. The longest run against each team has been for 35 yards, but that should not stop these teams from attempting around 30 running plays each to keep the quarterbacks out of critical situations.
|Denis Poroy / Associated Press|
|Elvis Dumervil and the Denver defense have stifled the likes of Philip Rivers and Tom Brady this season on the way to a 6-0 record.|
5. Broncos are really doing it
Okay, I admit it. I was one of the early-season doubters of the Broncos' success. In the last three games, the Broncos have sent Tony Romo, Tom Brady and Philip Rivers home losers as the defense gave up 17 points a game. Overall, Denver possesses the league's No. 2 defense, and as Ravens coach John Harbaugh pointed out, the Broncos have only let opponents convert two third-down situations in the second half of the six games they have played. Denver is on the verge of being an elite team. However, I ran a survey among fans this week asking them to list the top five teams in the NFL, and after counting the results the Broncos did not make the final list, despite being undefeated. I'll run that same survey again next week; if the Broncos beat the Ravens, I am sure the Broncos will make the list this time.
6. Who said you can't return home?
This week, Favre returns to Lambeau Field, where he was quarterback for the Packers for 16 seasons. While sporting the team's green and gold, Favre threw 442 touchdown passes. Now, Favre returns to Lambeau sporting the Vikings' purple uniform, which is incomprehensible to some. Can Favre throw another three touchdown passes like he did when these teams met in Minneapolis in Week 4?
7. The two Jakes
Remember the movie with Harvey Keitel and Jack Nicholson? Well, now we have a real-life football story about two Jakes - both named Jake Delhomme. The good Jake has thrown 30 more career touchdown passes than interceptions (119-89). But this season he has the NFL's lowest quarterback rating to go along with 13 interceptions. In his last 13 games dating back to last year (including the playoff loss to Arizona), Delhomme has nine touchdown passes, 21 interceptions and 18 sacks with a 6-7 record. Delhomme still gets the starting nod, but I believe he will be pulled from the lineup if the bad Jake shows up.
8. Once is lucky ... twice is good
Miles Austin caught 10 passes in Week 5 and, after the bye, came back with six more last week. The Cowboys' fourth-year player looks as if he's on his way to a fine career. This week, I will be watching Jets rookie running back Shonn Greene. He had 144 yards rushing last week against the Raiders and a 100-plus yard game this week changes him from lucky to good.
9. Team in the hunt
The Texans are over .500 and that's a rare thing for this team. Can they handle success? Can they build on their 4-3 record? Houston is 4-2 in their last six road games and the Bills look beatable.
10. It's a double-edged sword
I talked with Lions coach Jim Schwartz this week and told him how impressive it is that his Lions offense is ranked No. 1 in the NFL in third-and-10 situations. The Lions have converted 11 of 31 opportunities in those situations, or 35.5 percent of the time. Schwartz was quick to point out that they would rather be in much shorter situations and called that success a double-edged sword. With Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson returning to the lineup, and the Rams coming to town, it appears the Lions will convert the critical third downs and win this contest.