- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
- 0 Shares
Until Brett Favre's biceps muscle gave out on him, the 2008 New York Jets were 8-3 and one of the best teams in the AFC. Of course, Favre's return to the Meadowlands isn't the only reason Monday night's Jets-Minnesota Vikings matchup is so intriguing.
The bonus now is the Vikings' acquisition of Randy Moss. Just a couple of weeks ago, Moss, playing for the New England Patriots, went against Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, who battled the negative effects of a brewing hamstring problem. Moss beat a struggling Revis for a one-handed touchdown that stands as one of the best catches of the early season.
Revis should be back after missing two games with that hamstring injury. Again he faces Moss, who is in the strange position to play 17 games because he left a Patriots team on a bye week and goes to a Vikings team that just had its bye.
Ratings on all networks are at record levels this season. The Moss trade is only going to increase the number of viewers Monday night.
Here are the 10 best highlights and trends of the week:
1. Peppers returns to Carolina: Favre's return to New York may be a headliner, but Julius Peppers' return to Charlotte to play the Carolina Panthers should be a big event. Peppers was the second pick in the 2002 draft and had 81 sacks during his eight-year stay. His signing with the Chicago Bears was the biggest of the offseason. Peppers has done well with the Bears. He bulked up to 300 pounds. His new teammates liked him so much they selected him team captain. Although he has only two sacks and 13 tackles in four games, Peppers has been almost unblockable at times. Naturally, without him, the Panthers have struggled to generate a pass rush, posting only four sacks in four games. The Panthers' defense has held up reasonably well, ranking 18th (334.3 yards a game). The Panthers have forced eight turnovers, but because of their young offense, they have a minus-five turnover ratio.
2. Vince Young visits Dallas: Tony Romo may be popular as the Dallas Cowboys' starting quarterback, but Cowboy fans still love Young, the former star at the University of Texas. Many wished Jerry Jones traded for Young several years ago. This is Young's return after an offseason incident that almost ruined his career. Young visited a Dallas strip club and got into a scuffle with an employee who made disparaging remarks about UT and Young. Young was proactive enough to work with police and turn the incident into a traffic-ticket-like offense. On Sunday, he gets to simply play football.
3. Bye weeks for divisional rivalries: Because the NFL has only 96 divisional games to spread over 17 weeks, we've hit the soft spot in the schedule for divisional games. There were a robust 25 during the first four weeks. Only nine are scheduled between Week 5 and Week 8. The San Diego Chargers' visit to the Oakland Raiders is the only divisional game this week, but it's hard to call it a rivalry. Sure, there are plenty of emotions between Chargers and Raiders fans, but the Chargers have won 13 consecutive games against the Raiders. That's the second-longest divisional winning streak, one game behind the New England Patriots' 14-game run of dominance over the Buffalo Bills. The Raiders head into this game with a dozen players on the injury list, many with hamstring issues. Halfback Darren McFadden may miss the game because of a bad hammy. Linebackers Quentin Groves and Thomas Howard also might be hamstring casualties. Expect the Chargers to run the ball a lot.
4. An uncommon weekend: For the most part, the NFL has a balanced schedule in which divisional teams play 14 common opponents. The two other games -- called non-common matchups -- are determined by where teams finished the previous year. This weekend, five of the 32 non-common games are scheduled. The Denver Broncos play the Baltimore Ravens, the Jacksonville Jaguars visit the Bills, the St. Louis Rams play the Detroit Lions, the Bears and Peppers visit the Panthers and the Philadelphia Eagles play a Sunday night game against the San Francisco 49ers. The Jaguars and Rams could be the big benefactors of these non-common games. At 2-2 and having a victory over the Indianapolis, the Jaguars could stay out of the AFC South cellar this season if they can beat the Bills on Sunday and the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 21. The Rams have won two of their three homes games, but Sunday's game in Detroit is their chance to prove they can win on the road. The Lions are 0-4 and may struggle to contain the passing of rookie Sam Bradford.
5. Has Kyle Orton grown since last season? A 6-0 start put Orton, Josh McDaniels and the Broncos in the forefront of the NFL last season, but a trip to Baltimore turned into disaster. The Ravens turned that game into a scouting clinic, beating Denver 30-7 and providing a blueprint for how to stop the Broncos' offense. The Ravens figured Orton doesn't have the arm strength to throw deep, so defenders squatted on routes, stuffed the run and gave other teams a formula that contributed to the Broncos' 2-6 finish. Orton returns to Baltimore on Sunday on a pace to throw for more than 5,000 yards. He feels better suited to attack the Ravens because Denver's offense is more successful with intermediate routes and Eddie Royal has returned to being a top slot receiver. Let's see what the Ravens' defense finds this year.
6. Could the Chiefs face an ambush? Similar to the Broncos a year ago, the Chiefs are the surprise unbeaten team at 3-0 heading to a showdown against the Indianapolis Colts. Next week, they visit the Houston Texans. Do the Chiefs have the offense to hang with Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub? Kansas City coach Todd Haley's plan will be simple. He'll run Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles up the middle of the Colts' defense. ESPN Stats & Information ranks the Colts as the second-worst team in football stopping runs into the middle of the line, giving up 7.6 yards an attempt. The problem facing the Chiefs is Manning, who according to ESPN Stats & Information has a 115 quarterback rating and eight touchdown passes out of three-receiver sets. The Chiefs are allowing a 49.1 completion percentage and 60.6 quarterback rating against three-receiver offenses.
7. Maxing out the backup quarterbacks: Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, disappointed with the poor play of Derek Anderson, decided to go with undrafted rookie Max Hall in Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints. The track record of undrafted rookie QBs playing in Year 1 isn't good. Matt Moore went 2-1 for the Panthers as an undrafted rookie in 2007. Chad Hutchinson, who gave up baseball for football, went 2-7 for the Cowboys as a rookie in 2002. Others, such as Doug Johnson and Brock Berlin, didn't produce a victory. The bigger question is whether Hall can last 12 games without bringing the Cardinals' season down. Another backup, Todd Collins, will start for the Bears over Jay Cutler against Carolina. Cutler is still recovering from the effects of a concussion. For what it's worth, backups are 6-13 this year and have a combined 79.9 quarterback rating.
8. AFC versus NFC: The AFC-NFC battles resume with five interconference matchups this week. Four are in AFC cities, with the Cincinnati Bengals favored over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Jets favored over the Vikings and the Texans favored over the New York Giants. One of the more interesting games could be the Falcons' visit to the Cleveland Browns. The Browns have been competitive enough to have four games decided by seven points or less, but they've lost three. The Falcons have won their past two games with late field goals by Matt Bryant. The Titans-Cowboys game is another fascinating interconference battle. The AFC leads the NFC 11-6 after four weeks.
9. Running on empty: The Green Bay Packers are averaging only 94.5 yards a game and 3.94 yards a carry on the ground and don't have a lead running back after losing Ryan Grant for the season. The Redskins lost Clinton Portis for a month because of groin injury. They are averaging 98 rushing yards. This is a "showdown" between running backs Brandon Jackson (Packers) and Ryan Torain (Redskins). Expect a lot of short passing in this one.
10. A game of checkdowns? With Michael Vick healing from rib problems, Kevin Kolb gets the start for the Eagles on Sunday night against the struggling 49ers. Alex Smith is working with his second offensive coordinator this season on a volatile and winless 49ers team. Coach Mike Singletary is calling out players and letting them go if they don't want to stay along for the bumpy ride. Kolb versus Smith could be predictable if both defenses switch to a Cover 2 and simply let the quarterbacks throw checkdown passes to running backs. The Eagles would be at a disadvantage in that case because LeSean McCoy has a cracked rib and fullback Leonard Weaver is out of the season.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.