Commentary

Around the NFC: Teams still jockeying for position

Updated: December 18, 2007, 4:57 PM ET
By Brendan Roberts | ESPN.com

What have the coaches been saying in their weekly news conferences? Brendan Roberts takes a quick-hitting look at the goings-on for each of the 16 NFC teams. Given the holiday next week, this will be the last "Around the NFC" of the season:

All quotes are from Monday's news conferences (unless otherwise noted).

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys: Normally all quiet on the Western front, there was a lot to talk about in Dallas on Monday. First of all, news came Monday afternoon that safety Roy Williams was suspended for one game by the NFL for his third horse-collar tackle of the season. You'd think the guy who basically is responsible for the horse-collar penalty being implemented would lay off grabbing the back of opponents' necks, but that doesn't appear to be the case. His absence might help the Panthers offense because it appears fellow starting safety Patrick Watkins, who sprained his ankle for the second time this season, might also miss the team's Week 16 game. Coach Wade Phillips said Monday that Watkins will miss "a week or so." ... Phillips didn't say much about Tony Romo's thumb injury, but ESPN's Chris Mortensen is reporting the Cowboys are preparing as if Romo will play in Week 16. Phillips said the trainers are evaluating Romo to see how much practice time he'll miss this week, but all indications are he'll play despite the short week (they play Saturday). So far, no worries regarding Romo. ... Key offensive lineman Andre Gurode is getting an MRI on his knee to determine how severe the injury is, but Phillips said it was encouraging to see him "walking around" Monday and getting treatment. Also, defensive lineman Chris Canty will be "all right," according to Phillips, despite suffering what appeared to be a leg injury in which his knee was bent the wrong direction. ... Finally, Terry Glenn will practice this week. "He feels like he's ready to go, but we'll see," said Phillips, who obviously needs to be convinced Glenn is ready to contribute to the team. Fantasy owners shouldn't expect that to happen, at least initially.

New York Giants: It was windy, receivers were dropping passes (eight of 'em, by coach Tom Coughlin's count) and Eli Manning's passes often were errant, yet the Giants passed the ball 52 times and ran the ball 28 times Sunday. Coughlin defended that count Monday. "The fact of the matter is that when we took the ball with 12 something to play in the third quarter, we were down 22-3. As I said last night, what we are really trying to do is to make something happen that we could have a good routine and some consistency with offensively," said Coughlin, according to the Giants' Web site. "The real direction that we ought to be focusing on is the fact that with 14 minutes left in the fourth quarter we had the ball [in the red zone] and did not score." Coughlin and the Giants have been berated for their play-calling numerous times by the local media this season, and Coughlin can be defensive. But the fact of the matter is Eli Manning is not the kind of quarterback who can keep a team in a shootout (or bring a team back from deficit) by passing on every down. That was especially true in the weather conditions Sunday and with his receivers banged up; Jeremy Shockey is done for the season with a broken leg, Plaxico Burress still isn't 100 percent and Sinorice Moss left Sunday's game with a strained muscle in his back, according to Coughlin. I'm coming to the harsh realization that this might be the extent of Eli's development. ... Kevin Boss will replace Shockey at tight end, and he looked to have some upside, with two catches for 31 yards and a touchdown versus the Redskins. But Coughlin said Mike Matthews would split Shockey's playing time "according to play, to be honest with you." ... Finally, this question was asked of Coughlin: "Did you bring in Ahmad Bradshaw [more] because Brandon Jacobs was having trouble holding on to the ball?" Says Coughlin: "No, catching [the ball], not holding [on to it]." Jacobs has never been confused with Roger Craig in terms of his receiving ability, but this is another example of why his all-around upside is not that of the upper-tier backs.

Philadelphia Eagles: Coach Andy Reid had a number of injuries to talk about Monday, the most severe of which is linebacker Takeo Spikes tearing his rotator cuff. Reid said the team is going to see if the injury can be managed to the point at which Spikes can play, according to the Eagles' Web site, but Spikes might have to be shut down. The loss of Spikes would help the running game of the Saints, the Eagles' Week 16 opponent. Also, Reid indicated he was concerned about tight end L.J. Smith's knee, and it's not looking like Smith will be able to play in Week 16. And his fill-in, Matt Schobel, suffered a concussion on a controversial helmet-to-helmet hit. Schobel will be evaluated Tuesday, at which time the Eagles will have to decide whether they will add another tight end to the roster. Dynamic rookie Brent Celek, who would start if Smith and Schobel sit, will get a look for next year, if nothing else. Celek caught three passes for 50 yards Sunday. Then we move to guard/mauler Shawn Andrews, who left the game because of an MCL injury. He will be re-evaluated this week. Brian Westbrook re-aggravated the knee bruise that has bothered him all season, and he'll likely miss more practice time this week. But all indications are that he'll play versus the Saints without limitations. And he'll get backup Correll Buckhalter (concussion) back this week to help him out. ... Finally, Reid has had enough of the questions regarding Donovan McNabb's future. "To be honest with you, I'm so tired of talking about it," Reid said. "Every week I'm asked the same thing, and there is nothing that changes from week to week." We're tired of it, too. On to the Skins ...

Washington Redskins: Coach Joe Gibbs singled out Shaun Suisham for his field goal kicking in the wind-whipped Giants Stadium this year. "It really stood out that he kicked three field goals there," said Gibbs, according to the Redskins' Web site. "He has made eight straight [at Giants Stadium], and that's pretty tough to do." It might not be publicized much, but Suisham has turned in a pretty decent season, currently ranking sixth in the NFL in field goals made. ... The Redskins don't expect to place Jason Campbell (dislocated kneecap) on injured reserve because the quarterback is improving, and the team still hopes he can return later this season, maybe in Week 17. Backup Todd Collins was banged around pretty good Sunday, but he's expected to be OK to face the Vikings in Week 16. ... Quote of the week from Gibbs, who praised Clinton Portis: "Clinton is a tough dude. That's what he is. He was slammin' it. He's now in the best shape of the year. He's gone farther and farther and hasn't been hurt, and he's back playing with a reckless abandon."

NFC North

Chicago Bears: Just about everywhere Lovie Smith has been, he has been a winner. He sounded frustrated with the team's 5-9 record in his postgame news conference, moments after losing to the Vikings, 20-13. "They had that big pass play [a 71-yard reception from Robert Ferguson], we missed a lot of tackles, and that really shifted momentum in their way," said Smith, according to the Bears' Web site. "That's been the story of our season. We do some good things but haven't been able to finish." Smith did have good things to say about Kyle Orton, who made his first start of the year in a loud Metrodome atmosphere Monday. "He gave us a chance to win right up [till the end]." Orton figures to start again in Week 16 versus the Packers with Rex Grossman (knee) possibly out for the year. But don't expect much better results than what he posted Monday (22-for-38, 184 yards, zero touchdowns, one interception).

Detroit Lions: Coach Rod Marinelli mostly answered questions about the team's six-game losing streak, but he did express some frustration regarding stud rookie Calvin Johnson's play Sunday, according to the Detroit Free Press. Johnson finished with five catches for 102 yards, but 49 of those yards came on a Hail Mary pass to end the first half (he fell a yard short of the end zone). Johnson let two passes bounce off his hands early in the game, and the second one turned into one of Jon Kitna's five interceptions. "He's got to make those plays. I mean, he's got to," said Marinelli, according to the Free Press. "They were some good opportunities. He's got to go up and get them." Johnson told the paper he had a "lack of focus." Considering he's only a rookie, we'll give him a pass. ... For the third time this season, the Lions sniffed the NFL record for fewest rushing attempts in a game (six). They had nine carries against the Chargers. And starter Kevin Jones even took a back seat to T.J. Duckett often in the first half because the Lions wanted to get a look at the backup, according to Marinelli. In the second half, Aveion Cason even got some work; Marinelli told the Free Press that Cason has a great understanding of the passing game.

Green Bay Packers: The Packers secured a first-round bye with their victory over the Rams on Sunday, but on Monday coach Mike McCarthy was quick to dismiss the complacency or "rest your players" theory. First of all, the Packers are now tied with the Cowboys for the chance at home-field advantage in the NFC. And then there's the simple fact that the Packers play the rival Bears. "I'm going to make a big deal out of beating the Bears, and everything else comes off of that. I think it's important to stay focused on the immediate target because [if you don't], that's how you set yourself up for not playing your best football. I wasn't particularly happy with the way we started the St. Louis game," said McCarthy, according to the team's Web site. "So we will be focused on the Chicago Bears. There's a lot of emotion. It's probably the best rival football game in the National Football League, and we need to be 13-2 when we come back from Chicago." Obviously the coach isn't going to take it easy, you know the Bears won't ... something tells us the Packers will be as motivated as ever come Sunday.

Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings looked good in beating the Bears on Monday, but the victory did come at a price. Cornerback Antoine Winfield, in his second game back after missing four of five games with a nagging hamstring injury, was all over the field in the first half before suffering what could be a torn ligament in his shoulder. He was immediately declared out once the Vikings trainers examined him. The St. Paul Pioneer Press noted after the game that Winfield could barely put on his shirt. "It's so frustrating," Winfield said to the Pioneer Press of his injury-plagued season. "I never get hurt. It's just my luck right now." Winfield said he was nervous about what a follow-up MRI might find. ... Sidney Rice was also injured on Monday night, and his injury might be even more serious than Winfield's. The rookie receiver was carted off the field in the fourth quarter and may have fractured a bone in his ankle. Rice needed the assistance of a trainer to get to his locker, and his eyes were red, according to the Pioneer Press. He declined comment and struggled to walk to the shower. It's not looking good for him. With Rice out, the Vikings might have to turn back to Troy Williamson, who was a healthy scratch Monday and was none too pleased with that. "I ain't going to talk about that," Williamson told reporters.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons got roughed up (37-3) by the Bucs on Sunday, but all the talk was positive in the locker room about the first post-Bobby Petrino week. Interim coach Emmitt Thomas said he felt the team banded together pretty well in practice after Petrino's departure. Warrick Dunn said it was an "emotional week" and that it was tough to focus, but Sunday's game was more a result of things just going downhill quickly. And DeAngelo Hall said it was good to see a change in the team last week. "Still business as usual, we had a great week of practice," said Hall, according to the Falcons' Web site. "You know, guys were a little bit loose in practice and guys were having fun. Guys were having fun and that was something that I think was missing from this ball club for a while now, but obviously that wasn't the answer either." There is optimism in the Falcons' locker room, if there can be such a thing after a blowout loss. I'm not ready to bury the team yet because I don't think they've folded up the tent. I expect to see fight from them in Week 16 at Arizona and Week 17 versus Seattle.

Carolina Panthers: Rookie quarterback Matt Moore accounted for himself pretty well in the team's win over Seattle (19-for-27, 208 yards, zero touchdowns and interceptions), and coach John Fox had good things to say about him. "It was good. He had a great week of preparation," said Fox, according to the Panthers' Web site. "He had some tough spots, but he made some good throws." So will he start next week, coach? "If you ask me right now, I'd say yes. But things change and we'll go day to day. Based on his performance today, that is the direction we'll be moving in as we move forward." ... It was good to see Steve Smith play a bigger part in the Panthers' offense; he caught eight passes for 72 yards and also had two runs. "We've tried to [get the ball to Smith] all season," said Fox. "Steve's been very patient. He's done a tremendous job all season in a tough spot. I was happy to see us be able to get him the ball downfield a little deeper than we have of late." Deeper, but certainly not deep. Smith is nothing near the same receiving option he was when Jake Delhomme was starting, but he deserves to start for you as a No. 3 receiver or a flex in a 12-team league.

New Orleans Saints: Coach Sean Payton said he is optimistic that he'll have Reggie Bush back this week, based on the back's rehab progress. "We'll see where he's at Wednesday, but I know he's planning on practicing, and that will be a plus." Indeed. Payton said he has been pleased with the way Bush is moving around, and he felt reporters were "winging it and making claims" about Bush going on injured reserve in the previous weeks. That said, don't be so quick to shove Bush back in your lineup if you have running back depth. The Saints host the Eagles, who just shut down the Cowboys in Dallas, and Bush is unlikely to get a full workload, especially given how well Aaron Stecker has done in replacing him. "I think that you would have to take into account the injury and not just throwing him back into the role," Payton said. "I think he feels a lot stronger on it and he is moving around a lot better on it, and I think we would be kind of judicious as to what role and how many snaps. We'll see." ... Our collective "Get Well Soon" card goes out to defensive lineman Brian Young, who was hospitalized over the weekend for a rare form of pneumonia. He has had to get fluid drained from between his lung and rib-cage, and the team might have to place him on IR if he doesn't improve soon.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs have clinched the NFC South, and with it a playoff berth. But coach Jon Gruden assured reporters Monday that the team still has its eye on overtaking Seattle for that No. 3 playoff spot and not on resting starters in the next two weeks. "To make a long story short, we don't have any plans [to rest players] in store at this time," said Gruden, according to the team's Web site. "We're going to keep the normal practice routine. We'll leave for San Francisco Friday and try to find a way to win our 10th game." Gruden did acknowledge that the team might try "other combinations, getting some guys some plays off," but was quick to dismiss any theory of the team scaling back. "The problem is, unlike college football or the preseason games, you don't have the nucleus on your roster to do that, to be honest with you." Unless Gruden is yanking our chain, owners should view the Week 16 game versus San Fran as a favorable matchup for key Bucs options, and nothing less.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals: Anquan Boldin (toe) not only played in Week 15 despite being listed as questionable, but he played well. "Once the adrenaline took over and I was out on the field, I really didn't think about it," Boldin said, according to the Cardinals' Web site. "It was worth it." Coach Ken Whisenhunt also was appreciative of Boldin: "We know Anquan is a tough player. He made some plays for us, and that is the competitive side of Anquan." Even though the team announced that Boldin and Fitzgerald (groin) likely would be day-to-day the rest of the season, Boldin was "pretty sure" we would be ready to play come next Monday. That's good for both receivers. Larry Fitzgerald was held in check by the Saints, even though one of his two catches went for a score. But fantasy owners should expect to have both receivers in their starting lineups with the Cardinals having favorable matchups versus the Falcons and Rams at home over the next two weeks.

St. Louis Rams: After a two-week absence because of a concussion, Bulger reported no problems, aside from typical aches and pains, after playing Sunday against the Packers. "I thought he played well," coach Scott Linehan said, according to the team Web site. "He battled and hung in there ... he seemed like his old self, for the most part." Old self he was. He was sacked on the first play of the game, and he looked tentative in the pocket, which is understandable given how many shots he has taken this year. He bounced back and made some nice passes, but this is clearly not his season. He has been battered all season thanks to an offensive line that has been ravaged by injuries, and a 219-yard, one-touchdown, two-interception day is about all we can expect from him these days. Now he gets to face the league's best defense (Pittsburgh's) on just three days' rest; the Rams host the Steelers on Thursday. Have fun with that. ... Backup running back Travis Minor suffered a high ankle sprain and will miss the team's final two games. "He has a pretty badly sprained ankle," said Linehan. That shouldn't kill too many fantasy teams, however.

San Francisco 49ers: Most of the questions in coach Mike Nolan's news conference all season have been about what is wrong with the team's quarterback position (Alex Smith, Trent Dilfer). Shaun Hill jumps in and does well, and now the questions are about why he wasn't in there sooner. "After Alex was hurt and Trent was the quarterback, my only thoughts for Shaun to play were if something happened to Trent, or if I felt we got to a point in a game that we needed a lift or a boost, and we'd put him in," said Nolan, according to the team Web site. "But outside of that, those situations never occurred until two weeks ago when Shaun got in there." Nolan was quick to praise Hill, though, especially in terms of the young quarterback's instincts. "If the play breaks down, he can make something out of it. That was evident the other night because not every play is perfect; that's always the case," said Nolan. "At that quarterback position, it's really important to have that ability. The quick twitch that you have in that thinking process, I think some of what you saw the other night helped him." Let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Hill was making his first start, and it was against one of the league's most porous secondaries, at home. The going will be a lot tougher (and more confusing) for the young quarterback this week against the Bucs. ... Darrell Jackson played well (eight catches, 86 yards) versus the Bengals, but Nolan was quick to point out that the 49ers spread the ball around a lot in Thursday's game. That really helped Jackson because the defense had to be concerned with Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Arnaz Battle and others. I still don't think much of D-Jax these days; the aforementioned Bengals secondary just made him look better.

Seattle Seahawks: Coach Mike Holmgren said he wanted D.J. Hackett back at practice "as soon as possible." Hackett has had a recurring high ankle sprain, but Holmgren wants him back at practice so the receiver can get in game shape for the playoffs. He'll likely be listed as questionable for Week 16, but it's a good sign that Holmgren expects him back sooner rather than later. ... The Seahawks have won the NFC West and are sitting pretty with the No. 3 seed in the NFC (despite Sunday's loss), but Holmgren said he has not had any conversations with his staff regarding a plan to rest players in the coming weeks. However, he added that that's something he probably wouldn't talk about anyway. For now, expect the Seahawks to play it straight versus Baltimore at home in Week 16.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN.com Fantasy.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy. He has been covering fantasy sports as an editor and writer for more than eight years and was awarded the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year award in 2006 from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Roberts can be read in both the fantasy baseball and football areas at ESPN.com.