10 Spot: Manning better than ever
Football is the greatest reality TV show going. ESPN feeds into and off it -- if that's even possible.
Monday night, in a sight that repulsed Green Bay and thrilled Minnesota, Brett Favre played for the first time against the Packers on ESPN in what was the highest-rated telecast in cable television history.
Then, just when it seemed about time to curb your enthusiasm, the New York Jets acquired Braylon Edwards from the Cleveland Browns just in time for the former Pro Bowl wide receiver to make his debut on "Monday Night Football."
Favre last week, Edwards this week and, of course, thoughts about what could be next.
In Week 6, it'll be the Chargers and Broncos on MNF. Unfortunately, there's no more Philip Rivers versus Jay Cutler. So maybe in the coming week, to continue the unmatched Monday night drama, the Chargers could trade Shawne Merriman, or the Broncos could trade Brandon Marshall, or even better, they could trade them for each other.
Let's move on to this week's 10 Spot and Week 5's most intriguing storylines:
1. Manning on a roll: As good as Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was in 2004, when he set all kinds of records, he has been even better this season. Hard to believe, but Manning has thrown for more yards in the first four games this season than he has in the first four games of any season. At this pace, Manning would pass for 5,344 yards, which would shatter the mark of 5,084 that Dan Marino set in 1984. He also leads the league with 1,336 passing yards and a 114.5 quarterback rating. This production has come without former head coach Tony Dungy, wide receiver Marvin Harrison and wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez, who left the lineup in Week 1 with a knee injury. The faces around him change, but Manning doesn't.
"Right now, he's been on fire," said the Colts' new coach, Jim Caldwell.
But Sunday night will be Manning's most challenging game of the season, in Tennessee, against a still-tough Titans team. But if Manning has another 300-yard passing game, he will join Kurt Warner and Steve Young as the only quarterbacks to start a season with five consecutive 300-yard passing games.
2. The fall of Russell: The flip side of Manning is another No. 1 overall pick, Oakland quarterback JaMarcus Russell. He is the league's lowest-ranked starting quarterback, yet he seems in no real danger of losing his job. Just go back to last season, when Raiders owner Al Davis fired Lane Kiffin and revealed that Oakland's former coach was not keen on using the No. 1 overall pick on the player whom Davis eventually did.
"I realized that you did not want to draft JaMarcus Russell," Davis read from a note. "He is a great player. Get over it. That was the battle at the draft. He didn't think we should draft JaMarcus. He had other ideas."
Those other ideas, for now, seem intriguing and appealing. And now, Russell must lead the Raiders' inept offense into New Jersey to battle the Giants and their tough defense. By the end of the day, Russell's 39.8 percent completion percentage might actually go down. Again.
3. Name recognition: One-quarter of the way through the season, New York Giants wide receiver Steve Smith has produced significantly better numbers than Carolina Panthers wideout Steve Smith. Check it out. New York's Smith leads the league in receptions with 34 and receiving yards with 411 while becoming the top target the Giants needed. Meanwhile, Carolina's Smith has 15 catches for 190 yards. But New York's Smith now draws the toughest matchup of Week 5 -- he goes against Oakland's Pro Bowl cornerback, Nnamdi Asomugha. Right after Smith lit up the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4, his coaches told him he would be facing the best cornerback in the league this week. But what they didn't mention was that through a quarter of this season, Smith has been the best wide receiver in the league.
4. Rookie RBs hitting their stride: Get ready for rookie running backs to start running wild. We already have seen glimpses of it. In Denver, first-round pick Knowshon Moreno has begun to emerge and will receive even more carries with Correll Buckhalter nursing a sprained ankle. One NFC executive said this past spring that Moreno was the most impressive college running back he had seen since Emmitt Smith -- which helps explains why, even though Denver needed defense, it selected Moreno in the draft. In Philadelphia, second-round pick LeSean McCoy has been so impressive that the Eagles know they must get him the ball not only for the things he can do but also to preserve Brian Westbrook. The days of Westbrook being the workhorse are coming to a close quickly. Philadelphia just can't do that to the 30-year-old Westbrook any longer. Both rookie running backs, Moreno and McCoy, have started to make noise. But get ready for plenty more of it as the NFL season heads into its second quarter.
5. Singletary's incentive: Back in 2007, Falcons owner Arthur Blank interviewed Mike Singletary to become Atlanta's coach. Instead, he went with Bobby Petrino. Then, after Petrino bolted on the Falcons, Singletary never got called back to interview for a job that went to Mike Smith. Now Singletary coaches in San Francisco, and the 49ers are preparing to take on Smith's Falcons in a game that matches two teams in similar spots. On the same Sunday last month, Atlanta suffered a crushing loss at New England and San Francisco experienced an even more devastating loss at Minnesota. After Sunday, one of these teams already will have lost two games, and the other will be marching ahead with another victory and momentum. In a way, the 49ers are striving to become what the Falcons were last season -- a team not counted on in the preseason that excelled once it got to the regular season. And if that weren't enough motivation, Singletary also can reflect on the fact that he now faces a team that overlooked him not once, but twice.
6. Jags on the rebound: Most forecasted Jacksonville to be competitive last season, then rebuild this season. But it looks as if the opposite is unfolding. After losing their first two games, the Jaguars have stormed back to win two straight AFC South games, at Houston and at home against Tennessee. David Garrard is playing as if he is worthy of the deal the Jaguars gave him two offseasons ago. The rest of the team is following Garrard's lead. And now the Jaguars head into a softer stretch of their schedule, when they will find out whether this team can handle not only its opponents but also some prosperity. In the season's next quarter, Jacksonville will face Seattle on the road, St. Louis at home, Tennessee on the road and Kansas City at home -- teams with a combined 1-15 record. If Jacksonville is to make any kind of playoff push, this would be an ideal time to do it.
7. Missouri's misery: Missouri is in a state of disrepair. So far, it is 0-8 in NFL games this season. The Rams are 0-4; the Chiefs are 0-4. And this comes after a season in which each of Missouri's NFL teams went 2-14. Now, with a home game Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, the Rams are trying to end their four-game skid. Meanwhile, with a home game Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, the Chiefs are trying to end their four-game skid. But the schedules don't get a lot gentler from here. After playing the Vikings, the Rams will play at Jacksonville, Indianapolis at home and at Detroit. After playing the Cowboys, the Chiefs will play at Washington, then San Diego at home, then at Jacksonville before a trip to Oakland. Wins never are easy to come by in the NFL. But they're even tougher to come by in Missouri.
8. Massaquoi filling the void: Assuming he's not jealous of LeBron James, Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi has the chance to become more than a worthy successor to Braylon Edwards. Massaquoi put up bigger numbers in one game in Week 4 against Cincinnati than Edwards had all season. Plus, Browns quarterback Derek Anderson already felt more comfortable throwing to Massaquoi, Cleveland's third-round pick out of Georgia. The two had spent about 30 minutes together after practice every day, pitching and catching. It showed in Week 4 and has a chance to do the same Sunday against Buffalo and its depleted secondary. The real test for Massaquoi will be when the weather in Cleveland changes, and the temperatures drop and the winds whip. Massaquoi dropped some balls in college, his hand placement was inconsistent and Cleveland is a tough place to play in November and December. But Massaquoi has some elements that Edwards had lost. He has the support of the fans and of Anderson.
9. Heat is on Jauron: No matter how chilly it gets in Buffalo, coach Dick Jauron's seat will remain hot. The season already has not gone the way the Bills wanted. Buffalo is coming off a 38-10 drubbing at Miami and now hosts a Cleveland team it should handle. If it doesn't, the calls for Jauron's job will increase. It would seem awfully early for Bills owner Ralph Wilson to take any action. But consider this: At this time last season, the Raiders already had fired Lane Kiffin and the Rams had fired Scott Linehan. Plus, Wilson is impatient. Buffalo already fired offensive coordinator Turk Schonert during the preseason. Now the spotlight is on Jauron, who must win for Wilson, the man who wants to win now.
10. Brady's kryptonite? Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has won consistently everywhere -- everywhere except Denver. For some reason, Brady sports only a 1-4 record in Denver, where the Patriots play Sunday in what might be the game of the day. Denver is the only NFL team against which Brady has a losing record. But the circumstances for Brady's latest trip to Denver are different. Now Brady will be going against his former offensive coordinator, new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, who knows Brady and his tendencies as well as or better than anyone. It is one of the most intriguing subplots on a Sunday full of them. McDaniels will try to leave his mark on Brady the same way he has left it on the Broncos.
Brady Vs. Broncos
|Totals||203||115||1,302||8-5||1 win, 4 losses|
"I tell you what, just being under Josh McDaniels for a few months now, I mean he's a guy that is going to have you as prepared as you can be for a game, and that's something that throughout my 11 years I haven't had a lot of," Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. "I've had some great coaches, including [Mike] Shanahan, but [McDaniels] is definitely one-of-a-kind in the way that he approaches the game."
The Schef's specialities
Game of the week: New England at Denver: It's the New England Patriots versus the Denver (former) Patriots -- McDaniels, wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, running back LaMont Jordan, tight end Daniel Graham, guard Russ Hochstein, long-snapper Lonie Paxton and defensive tackle Le Kevin Smith.
Player of the week: Dallas DE DeMarcus Ware. Even though Ware led the NFL in sacks last season with 20, his last sack came Dec. 20 against Baltimore.
Upset of the week: Tennessee beats Indy. The Titans have won two of the past three against the Colts in Tennessee. At 0-4, the Titans are angry, feisty and looking to make it three of the past four.
Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.
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