1. After spending eight consecutive weeks on the inactive list, Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno was expected to fill a backup role behind rookie Ronnie Hillman and Lance Ball when he was added to the game day roster when Willis McGahee was lost for the remainder of the season with a torn MCL. However, Moreno was inserted into the lead back role and has responded with three solid performances, including this week’s 119 rushing yard, 48 receiving yard, one touchdown effort against the Raiders in a game in which he received a whopping 36 touches, a career high. That marked the first time Moreno had topped 100 rushing yards since Week 13 of the 2010 season and gave him 361 total yards and a touchdown during his three game renaissance. His performance ensures that Moreno will remain the Broncos starter over the remainder of the 2012 season and opens the possibility that he will regain the starter’s role in 2013. McGahee will almost certainly return to the team given his manageable salary of $2.5-million and with Moreno set to earn just $1.7-million and Hillman $515,000, Denver figures to have a solid three player rotation at the running back position for a very reasonable salary cap charge.
2. Sticking with the Broncos, with his 310-yard passing performance in Week 14, Peyton Manning is now on pace to finish the season with 4,701 passing yards which would be a career high. His previous best was the 4,700 yards he threw for during the 2010 season. With 30 touchdown passes with three games to go, Manning is likely to post the 2nd most touchdown passes of his career, bettering the 33 he threw for during the 2000, 2009 and 2010 season. In the preseason, Manning’s fantasy value took a hit based on the historical differences in his production in games played outdoors and his return from a neck injury but it is now long past time to put those theories to rest. Manning shapes up as an upper tier QB1 for the 2013 season.
3.In San Diego, reports circulated this week that Chargers owner Dean Spanos would fire both general manager A.J. Smith and head coach Norv Turner at the conclusion of the season. Turner was surprisingly retained following a disappointing 2011 season that reportedly also almost cost Smith his job. Now it appears that a third straight season out of the playoffs will cost both men their jobs. With the team’s personnel clearly in decline, Smith has been blamed for a number of less than stellar drafts in recent years, including the questionable decisions to draft players such as Craig Davis and Larry English in the 1st rounds of the 2007 and 2009 drafts. In addition, Smith’s run of finding solid role players later in the draft ended years ago. However, Smith’s biggest mistake this past offseason was the decision not to sign veteran wide receiver Vincent Jackson to a long-term contract. Jackson was a huge asset to an aging and seemingly in-decline Philip Rivers at quarterback and free agent acquisition Robert Meachem, signed to replace Jackson, was an absolute bust before finally losing his starting job to in-season pick-up Danario Alexander.
4. After starting the season 7-1, the Bears have dropped three of their last four games to fall to 8-4 and to 2nd place in the NFC North behind the surging Green Bay Packers. While Chicago’s schedule over their remaining four games likely ensures a playoff spot, a deep run into the postseason seems unlikely. The Bears have struggled against quality opponents, losing four of five games against teams that would currently qualify for the playoffs and that win came in Week 1 against an Indianapolis Colts squad that is a vastly superior now than they were back then. With a banged up Brian Urlacher, a defense that is no longer turning turnovers into points and the league’s 31st ranked passing attack, look for the Bears to make an early exit from the 2012 playoff picture.
5. Cleveland currently sports a very modest 4-8 record, a mark that is likely to cost head coach Pat Shurmur his job after the team’s recent management shuffle. However, a closer look reveals a squad that could make some noise during the 2013 season. The Browns have won their last two games and three of their last five with the defense surrendering an average of just 15.2 points per game over that five-game stretch. In addition, the average margin of defeat in Cleveland’s eight losses has been 6.5 points, with three losses by four or fewer points and two more by seven points. With five potential cornerstone pieces on offense (left tackle Joe Thomas, running back Trent Richardson, quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receivers Josh Gordon and Greg Little), the Browns figure to show marked improvement in their scoring ability in 2013. The defense also features a number of young, up and coming performers (defensive linemen Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard, cornerback Joe Haden and safety T.J. Ward) as well as solid veterans such as Ahtyba Rubin and D’Qwell Jackson on a unit that currently ranks 16th in points allowed missing key players due to injuries and suspension during the season.
6. Long considered a mainstay of the Dolphins offensive line, there are now serious doubts as to whether left tackle Jake Long has played has last game in a Miami uniform. With a triceps injury, Long will finish the year on injured reserve for the second consecutive season. He will be a free agent entering the 2013 season and the Dolphins will have the remainder of this season to determine if rookie 2nd round pick Jonathan Martin is a potential replacement for Long at left tackle. While the Dolphins are high on Martin, they appear to be committed to re-signing Long although the two sides have thus far failed to agree on extending his current contract. With Long’s recent injury history and coming off what may have been the worst year of his career, the Dolphins will likely prefer using the franchise tag to retain Long’s services giving them the option to re-sign him at the conclusion of the 2013 season provided he bounces back strongly next season.
7.Another player with an interesting contract situation is Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola. Clearly the team’s top threat at wide receiver (with apologies to solid rookie 4th round pick Chris Givens), Amendola is a free agent at season’s end and has proven to be both productive and injury prone over the past three seasons. Given his small stature and inability to remain healthy, it seems unlikely that St. Louis would sign Amendola to a lucrative long-term contract or place the franchise tag on him.