Vick diverts eyes from Brady-Manning
Pats-Colts is marquee matchup, but Eagles QB is making a bid for spotlight
But Michael Vick has stolen a good portion of that stage. Not only did he beat Manning in a game two weeks ago, but his game against the New York Giants on Sunday night might be even more important. The Eagles and the Giants are in a two-way battle for the NFC East lead, and Vick has become the hottest name in football.
Now, let's check out this week's big storylines and more.
The Giants' linebackers and secondary now have to cover the perimeters of the line of scrimmage for the pass and the run. The problem facing the Giants is keeping up with the Eagles if Vick starts mounting touchdown drives. They could be down four starters on offense for a second straight week -- tackle David Diehl, center Shaun O'Hara, wide receiver Steve Smith and fullback Madison Hedgecock/ Also, their three-receiver set is shortened even more with the season-ending injury to Ramses Barden.
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3. A Chilly ending? When discussing the Vikings' 3-6 season, Brett Favre keeps saying "we're running out of time.'' Time runs out Sunday if the Vikings lose to the Green Bay Packers. If the Packers sweep them, the Vikings would effectively be five games behind Green Bay (because of the tiebreaker) with six games to play. A 3-7 record would put owner Ziggy Wilf on the hot seat Monday morning to see whether he's going to fire Brad Childress. According to sources, the cost of firing Childress is high but not as high as most people think. Childress signed an extension through 2013, but the final year is the team's option. A source said Wilf would have to pay $6.6 million for 2011 and 2012. Childress is an unpopular figure around Vikings headquarters, but Wilf must decide whether he wants to try defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier as a possible replacement or keep Childress through the rest of the season. As for Favre, the only reasons he might want to continue playing for a 3-7 Vikings team are his love of the game and the chance to get 300 consecutive starts. (That streak is now 294.)
4. Go west, young men: The top three teams in the NFC South play three NFC West teams with the chance to pad their records. The New Orleans Saints host the Seattle Seahawks, giving Saints running back Reggie Bush the chance to face former USC coach Pete Carroll. The Atlanta Falcons travel to St. Louis in a matchup between Matt Ryan and Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, who is still developing. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to San Francisco, giving Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount the chance to explain to the 49ers why he changed his mind about signing with them after the draft. If the Falcons, Saints and Bucs pad their records at the expense of the NFC West, it's possible those three teams can get to 10 or more wins. The NFC South trio has a 5-1 record against the West, and the Falcons and Bucs are each 2-0. The Saints are the only one of the three teams to lose to an NFC West team. If that loss to Arizona leaves them one game behind the Falcons in the NFC South race, it's possible the Saints will be a wild-card team traveling to Seattle if the Seahawks win the NFC West.
6. A defenseless position: During the first half of the season, the Houston Texans had one of the worst defenses in league history, giving up approximately 400 yards a game. Now, they have competition. Unable to stop Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night, the Washington Redskins bolted past the Texans, 415.3 yards a game to 409.7. The 1981 Colts gave up the most yards in NFL history (6,793, or 424.6 a game). At least this week, both teams face offenses that shouldn't go over 400 yards. The Redskins play a Tennessee Titans team that doesn't throw the ball much with Vince Young. He completes roughly 10 of 17 passes a game, although it's not out of the question that running back Chris Johnson could go for 200. The Texans play a New York Jets offense that averages 362 yards a game. Gary Kubiak said he doesn't plan to make any changes on defense. The young secondary is giving up 301.3 yards a game, a pace that would shatter the passing yardage record (4,541) set by the 1985 Atlanta Falcons.
7. Skip the backup and go to the third-stringer: Colt McCoy of the Browns and Troy Smith of the 49ers were supposed to be third-string quarterbacks this season, given a uniform, a headset and a clipboard. But third-stringers are doing better than many of the backups. McCoy, the Browns' third-round choice, just came out of a four-game stretch in which he faced the Steelers, Saints, Patriots and Jets. Against those four playoff-caliber teams, which have combined records of 26-10, McCoy was 2-2. He completed 64.6 percent of his passes and had an impressive 85.2 quarterback rating. According to ESPN Stats & Information, McCoy has been the master of passes between 11 and 20 yards. He's completing 72 percent of those throws and is second only to Vick with a 127.5 quarterback rating on those passes. The Browns play the Jaguars on Sunday. Troy Smith, who was third behind Alex Smith and David Carr, has brought the long ball into the 49ers' offense. He has hit 6 of 10 passes of 21 yards or more in his two victories. According to Stats & Info, his 137.5 rating is the best in the league on passes of 21 yards or more. His challenge will be throwing against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Cover 2 defense Sunday.
9. Bye-bye to the bye weeks: The NFL settles into the final seven weeks of the season with no more bye weeks remaining. The bye weeks give teams the ability to recover from injuries and rethink strategies. They also give coaches extra time to prepare for opponents. Teams coming off the bye are 18-10, and there is a good chance last week's bye teams could go 3-1. The Chargers (who host Denver) and the Saints (who host the Seahawks) are favored by more than a touchdown. The Packers are favored on the road against the Vikings. The toughest post-bye assignment is Oakland's trip to Pittsburgh, where the Raiders are 7½-point underdogs.
10. Bottom-feeders: The Dallas Cowboys didn't look like a bottom-feeder Sunday when they responded to Jason Garrett's leadership style by blowing out the New York Giants, 33-20. But the Cowboys ARE 2-7, matching the record of their Sunday opponent, the Detroit Lions. Detroit and Dallas annually host games on Thanksgiving Day, so it's rare that these two turkeys get together before the traditional Thanksgiving game. The Bengals' season is over at 2-7, but even if they cancel the Terrell Owens-Chad Ochocinco show, the Bengals' show must go on against the Buffalo Bills, who are coming off their first win. A loss by the Bengals would start to move them into top-three territory for next year's draft, an amazing fall for a 2009 division winner. The Carolina Panthers, who officially became the league's worst team after losing to the Bills last week, play a well-rested Baltimore Ravens team. In last week's Thursday night season-opener, the Falcons exposed problems in the Ravens' secondary by spreading the field with receivers and passing the ball. No worries. John Fox rarely goes into three-receiver sets and a concussion to Jimmy Clausen has led to Fox using Brian St. Pierre at quarterback even though St. Pierre's only been with the team a little more than a week. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Panthers are the league's least productive team out of three-receiver sets with 914 yards in a mere 191 plays.
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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