1. Off the top, let’s head to Denver where coach Josh McDaniels is apparently doing all he can both on and off the field to earn himself a pink slip from owner Pat Bowlen. If losing 16 of his last 21 games weren’t bad enough, McDaniels and the Broncos attracted headlines this week when they were each fined for videotaping a portion of the 49ers walkthrough before the teams played against each other in London. The league and the team both wrote off the incident as videotaping by a rogue employee without the consent of McDaniels. However, McDaniels was fined for not immediately reporting the incident, and CBS analyst Bill Cowher chimed in, basically stating that it defied logic for an employee to videotape a walkthrough without being told by someone to do so. There is clearly more to this story than has been told. Bowlen offered a lukewarm endorsement of McDaniels this week while acknowledging the fans’ discontent with the team’s performance under McDaniels. However, given McDaniels poor performance as both a coach and in the personnel area, if this story has a long shelf life and inflicts more damage on McDaniels than it already has, look for Bowlen to relent to the demands of the Broncos fans and to jettison McDaniels.
2. Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson was visibly frustrated after the loss to the Bears this week in a game in which Jay Cutler became only the second quarterback since 1999 to throw four touchdowns against Philadelphia. It was reported that Jackson had to be consoled by quarterback Michael Vick after head coach Andy Reid ripped Jackson’s effort in front of the team after the game. Jackson is undeniably a talented player who deserves to be mentioned when discussing the best young wide receivers in the game, but incidents like this are the reason he fell to the second round of the draft and was taken after several other receivers. It says a lot about a player’s maturity when he has to be consoled by someone with Vick’s past.
3. Keeping with the Eagles, Vick had his consecutive-passes-without-an-interception streak broken at 240 when he was intercepted by Bears safety Chris Harrison. The streak dated all the way back to the 2006 season.
4. The Rams got over a major hurdle in Week 12, finally breaking through for their first road win in a game in which quarterback Sam Bradford threw for more than 300 yards for the first time his career. The win was a big one for St. Louis, after they blew leads in the final seconds on the road against the Bucs and the 49ers and lost a winnable game in Oakland. The combined margin of victory in those three games was just six points. Bradford won the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Month award for the second time and has thrown for 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns with just one interception over his last six games. If he continues on his current pace, Bradford’s rookie season will compare favorably to the production most of the league’s top signal callers recorded in their first season as starters.
5. There was a lot of criticism of the league for their handling of the Andre Johnson–Cortland Finnegan fiasco from Week 12, but you won’t hear any of it from this corner. Both players were fined $25,000 for their actions. While Johnson was the aggressor and deserved to be fined, the league was in a difficult position, given the number of fines the Titans have received this year and given Finnegan’s deserved reputation as a dirty player and his role in instigating Johnson by attacking his helmet with a dirty quick jam during the play in question. Johnson rightly apologized for his actions; but for his part Finnegan claimed innocence, dubiously stating that it wasn’t fair that the fines were equal considering that he did not retaliate—which means little since Johnson basically pummeled him, leaving Finnegan no opportunity to retaliate. Finnegan has often been cited as one of the league’s dirtiest players, if not its dirtiest, and his four fines this season back that claim up. If anything, Finnegan should have been suspended for his role in provoking the incident and his lengthy history of league punishment.
6. With their loss this week to the Chargers, the Colts fell to 6-5 on the year and are now assured of finishing with under 12 wins in the regular season for the first time since the 2002 season.
7. Sticking with the Colts, you have to go back a long way to remember a time when Peyton Manning struggled as much as he has over the past four games. While his fantasy point total was solid in three of those four games, he has struggled on the field, tossing seven interceptions in his last two games while failing to throw a single touchdown in one of those last two. The Colts have just one win in the last four games, and several pundits have suggested that Manning is suffering due to the team’s numerous injuries among their receivers, with starters Dallas Clark and Austin Collie both out with injuries. However, the team’s poor play along the offensive line has been an even bigger problem, particularly at guard. The team’s run blocking has been poor for several seasons but has reached a new low in 2010, with the team ranked 29th in both rushing offense and yards per carry. This week, right guard Jeff Linkenbach was repeatedly overpowered by Chargers defensive tackle Antonio Garay, and it will be a shock if he is back in the starting lineup in Week 13. Look for Mike Pollak or Jamey Richard to take his place. Both players were benched earlier in the season for their poor play, so the Colts are likely to struggle at the guard position over the balance of the season.
8. We have repeatedly read about the increased risk of injury that players face when they holdout, so it came as no surprise when Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson left his team’s win over Indy this week after just a few plays. Jackson had sat out for much of the season in a oft-publicized contract dispute with San Diego before reporting in order to serve a suspension before being eligible to go on the active roster. Sure enough, he suffered what is termed a calf injury, although some are questioning how severe the injury actually is. Either way, the end result was predictable enough. Something to keep in mind when drafting your fantasy squad in future years.
9. Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels has received plenty of criticism for several of his personnel moves, and it appears that the team’s decision to trade a fourth-round pick in next year’s draft to New England in exchange for running back Laurence Maroney and the Patriots’ sixth-round pick will join the list. Maroney has been inactive since Week 6 and has fallen behind Correll Buckhalter and Lance Ball on the team’s depth chart at running back. With Ball contributing on special teams, Maroney is unlikely to see the field for the remainder of the season, barring injury to another running back. While Buckhalter seems unlikely to return in 2010, the team will probably bring in another running back to compete with Maroney—given his lackluster performance this season—for the top backup spot behind Knowshon Moreno.
10. Picked in the second round of the 2009 draft, Bills safety Jairus Byrd was a revelation as a rookie, intercepting nine passes in 14 games despite only starting in nine contests. However, his production this season is way off from last year’s pace, and he has failed to intercept a pass and has forced just one turnover.
11. Sticking with the Bills, a quick look at their recent selections in the first round provides plenty of proof as to why the organization has struggled for several seasons, failing to reach the playoffs since the 2000 season. This year’s selection, running back C.J. Spiller, has failed to make an impact on a Bills team desperate for big plays on offense. Outside linebacker Aaron Maybin (2009) has been a complete bust and stands a good chance of being released in the offseason, though fellow 2009 draft pick Eric Wood looks to be a fixture at guard for years to come. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin (2008) hasn’t developed as expected and has been relegated to nickel-back duty for the most part. Running back Marshawn Lynch (2007) courted controversy and provided little production before being dealt to Seattle for a fourth-round draft pick. While Donte Whitner has emerged as a starter at safety, he has not proven worthy of being the eighth player taken in the 2006 draft. And fellow 2006 first-round pick John McCargo has been a bust at defensive tackle. Going further back, there are a number of other players who fit the bust category: quarterback J.P. Losman (2004), tackle Mike Williams (2002), and defensive end Erik Flower (2000).
12. Cardinals quarterback Derek Anderson went off on a beat journalist after Arizona’s dismal performance on Monday night against the 49ers. When asked why he was smiling on the sideline during the game, Anderson blew up, offering an expletive-laced response. With Anderson performing so poorly, maybe he should take the focus off himself rather than attracting the added publicity his blowup provided.
13. Browns coach Eric Mangini came out this week and said that quarterback Jake Delhomme needed to cut back on his mistakes. What prompted Mangini’s comment was the interception Delhomme threw to Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn that was returned for a touchdown, but the comment seems ridiculous since the Browns knew how error-prone Delhomme was when they signed him. Counting the Panthers’ 2008 playoff loss to Arizona, Delhomme had thrown 23 interceptions in his last 12 games before signing an astronomical two-year, $12.4-million contract with Cleveland that pays him $7 million this season. In three games with the Browns, Delhomme has thrown six picks, continuing the two-interception-per-game performances he’s had since his final games in Carolina.
14. If you’re looking for a favorite to land the top seed in the NFC, look no further than Atlanta. The Falcons currently sit atop the NFC, and their remaining schedule features three winnable road games (Buccaneers, Panthers, Seahawks) and home games against the Saints and the Panthers. With a 6-0 home record this season and quarterback Matt Ryan sporting a nifty 19-1 record in the Georgia Dome, the Falcons have a decent chance to win all of their remaining games and finish 14-2.