Randy Moss adds fear factor
Veteran wideout usually feeds off revenge; Pats' secondary could be in trouble
The fascinating part about Sunday's Vikings-Patriots matchup is the presence of Randy Moss.
The Patriots were bold enough to trade Moss to the Vikings for a third-round choice knowing he would be coming back to Foxborough, Mass. in Week 8. The Eagles did something similar when they shipped Donovan McNabb to the division rival Washington Redskins.
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Obviously, teams want to receive value for aging players. Players who leave or retire at the end of their contracts garner no future replacements in draft choice compensation. Good franchises look ahead, but great players seek revenge. McNabb may not have played great in his first game against the Eagles, but the Redskins pulled out a victory in Philadelphia, and McNabb is making a difference for the 4-3 Redskins.
The Patriots feel good about having that extra third-rounder, and would feel even better about the trade with a victory over the Vikings. But Moss is a player motivated by revenge. He made the Dallas Cowboys pay for years for passing on him in the draft.
Moss knows the Pats have a young secondary with holes. Bill Belichick is a master of finding ways to stop great offensive players, but he is still working with a secondary that has been allowing 282 passing yards a game.
Here are the 10 best storylines and trends of the week:
1. CSI Minneapolis, Brett Favre edition: You must admit the best reality drama in sports involves Favre, who told ESPN's Ed Werder on Saturday that he expects to start Sunday. Favre's health is a weekly mystery show. He suffered two cracked bones in his lower left ankle in Week 7 against Green Bay, but Favre still wants to play and extend his streak of regular-season games started to 292. Most other players would sit. No other player has a streak or a competitive mentality like Favre's. You can see how this one might play out. Favre talks his way onto the field to get the start. If he struggles with his mobility against the Patriots, Brad Childress could pull him. Childress certainly doesn't want to be remembered as the decision-maker who ended Favre's streak when Favre felt he could at least try to play. This Vikings-Pats game is more than just a game. It's part history and part desperation. If the Vikings lose and drop to 2-5, you'd have to all but eliminate them from playoff thoughts. That plays in Favre's favor in trying to get on the field. There is no tomorrow for him or the Vikings.
2. Survivor, Indianapolis: During the bye week, the Indianapolis Colts said goodbye to tight end Dallas Clark for the season because of a wrist problem. They also lost wide receiver Austin Collie for a few weeks because of thumb surgery and probably won't have halfback Joseph Addai (shoulder). Peyton Manning is a master of getting the most out of whatever he has on the field. The Monday night game against the Texans should be similar to the Week 1 shootout between these teams. Texans QB Matt Schaub finally got the best of Manning in a 34-24 victory. Manning more passing yards (433 to 107), but Schaub won the game because of the running of Arian Foster (231 yards, 3 TDs). This game should determine how the AFC South race should shake out. Never count out the Colts, even though it's pretty clear they aren't going to have their typical 12- to 13-win season. But if Manning pulls out this game, the Colts will be in the division battle to the end. At least this year, there won't be any talk about resting starters in the final weeks before the playoffs. The Colts are going to need everybody in every game to make the playoffs.
3. Survivor, Green Bay: Linebacker Brad Jones (shoulder) became the fifth Packers starter lost for the season because of injury. The drain has been noticeable on a defense that is surrendering 338.4 yards a game. Those are respectable numbers, but the Packers had one of the more dominating defenses in football a year ago. The Packers face a healthy Jets team that is physical, can run the ball and will drive Aaron Rodgers crazy with plenty of blitzes. This is a game in which Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy must worry about the health of his quarterback. The Packers have cut down on the number of sacks from a year ago, but Rodgers tends to hold the ball a little longer to complete passes downfield. Against the Jets, Rodgers might be better advised to throw the ball away a few times rather than take a sack or too many hard hits.
4. Boos for Brees? The sounds of boos came from the Superdome crowd before halftime of Sunday's disastrous 30-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns in Week 7. Drew Brees threw a couple of interceptions in the final minutes of the first half. Saints fans unleashed their frustration. The offense was terrible that day. With the Sunday night spotlight on them, the Saints and Brees must bounce back against the Steelers and Dick LeBeau's blitz packages. The loss of defensive end Aaron Smith will hurt Pittsburgh, but the Saints don't have much of a running game without Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas. More has been asked of Brees, who has thrown 10 interceptions. Brees is a fan favorite, but the Saints' offense is clearly in a funk.
5. Conservative party in Kansas City: Chiefs coach Todd Haley and his talented staff are showing a conservative approach can work in his pass-happy league. The Chiefs lead the AFC West with a 4-2 record built on running and smart defense. The Chiefs are averaging 35.2 runs a game with an incredible 5.0-yard average. Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones are both on pace for 1,000-yard seasons. But the surprising numbers are on defense. Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is playing it smart and conservatively on defense. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chiefs have blitzed less than any team in football. Crennel has rushed an extra defender on only 18.9 percent of the pass plays. Last year, D-coordinator Clancy Pendergast blitzed on 32.4 percent of the pass plays, but quarterbacks had a 106.2 rating against Kansas City. This year, opponents are completing only 46.3 percent of their passes against Chiefs blitzes. Crennel is stressing coverage.
6. Big-play McFadden: No matter who is quarterbacking the Raiders, big plays aren't part of their passing game. Oakland's wide receivers are averaging only 5.8 catches a game. In a league in which big plays are needed, a healthy Darren McFadden can fill some of the void. McFadden had a four-touchdown game against the Broncos in Week 7. He's averaging 5.5 yards a carry and is the team's third-leading pass-catcher with 18 receptions. Sunday's game against the Seahawks will be a test because Pete Carroll added bulk to the Seahawks' defense and made the unit tough to run against. Opponents have averaged only 3.3 yards a carry and the longest run against Carroll's defense has been 24 yards.
7. London's visiting NFL teams falling down: No one in the league office figured the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers would visit London as two of the more disappointing teams in the league. The Broncos may have shown signs of problems last year after going 2-8 after a 6-0 start, but the season opened optimistically, with Kyle Orton throwing at a 5,000-yard-season pace. Injuries have opened up holes in the defense, but giving up 59 points to the Raiders? That was embarrassing. 49ers coach Mike Singletary is not only losing games, but he's losing his grip on the team. Veteran linebacker Takeo Spikes publicly questioned Singletary's decision to keep him on the sidelines for a good portion of last Sunday's loss to the Panthers. Alex Smith is out at quarterback with a shoulder injury, and apparently David Carr played himself out of being the top replacement, so Troy Smith gets the start.
8. McNabb versus the rush: The stabilizing leadership of McNabb has been the key to the Redskins' 4-3 start, even though coach Mike Shanahan admits this team is a work in progress. McNabb has played big in the final quarter of some of these wins. But ESPN Stats & Information illustrates the problems McNabb and the Redskins' struggling offensive line have had against the blitz. According to Stats & Information, McNabb is completing only 46.1 percent of his passes when an extra rusher is coming. His quarterback rating in those situations is 72.8. The good news for the Redskins is he's thrown only two interceptions against the blitz. Expect Lions coach Jim Schwartz to blitz McNabb, even though he doesn't have the cornerback strength to hold up well in coverage.
9. Freeman the comeback king: Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman has started 15 games. He's put together fourth-quarter drives to win five of those games. That's not as easy as you think. Joe Flacco of the Ravens and Rodgers of the Packers are still trying to master those fourth-quarter situations. Usually, it takes two, three or four years for a good quarterback to master fourth quarters. Freeman isn't asked to throw a lot of passes, but he's growing. The key for Freeman this week is not letting the Arizona Cardinals get much of a lead. If he's cleared after suffering a concussion against Seattle, Arizona rookie quarterback Max Hall might start against the Bucs. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt's strategy will be to get a lead and try to run Beanie Wells as much as possible.
10. Bottom-feeders: The Dolphins' visit to Cincinnati is a game featuring two struggling teams trying to figure out if this is going to be a good or bad season. The Rams could struggle against the Panthers if St. Louis QB Sam Bradford's receivers don't do a better job of separating from pass coverage. Bradford's numbers drop in the second half, when defenses figure out the shortages the Rams have at receiver. David Garrard is back at quarterback for the Jaguars after missing a game with a concussion, but the Cowboys must rally around Jon Kitna now that Tony Romo is out eight weeks with a broken collarbone. For the Chargers, expect a physical game against the Tennessee Titans. When these teams meet, they usually play one of the more physical games of the year.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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