Commentary

10 Spot: 'Perfect' reasons to worry

Week 12 offers big obstacles to regular-season perfection for the Saints, Colts

Originally Published: November 27, 2009
By Adam Schefter | ESPN.com

In this Thanksgiving week, it's time to give thanks to many who deserve it.

Thanks to all the NFL players who absorb more physical punishment than fans realize to provide us with the entertainment they do.

Thanks to the men who leave their families to defend our country.

Thanks to the NFL executives, coaches, personnel men and agents who put up with me and share the information they do.

Thanks to the people with far more noble jobs than mine -- teachers, doctors, nurses, volunteers -- for the time they spend looking after and tending to others.

Thanks to the great people at ESPN who have welcomed me so graciously into their tremendous family.

Thanks to Olivia and Archie Manning for raising boys who serve as examples of the professional way that people should go about doing their job.

Thanks to the people who created Twitter, though I'm not sure my wife feels the same way.

Thanks to @OGOchocinco on Twitter for giving me more wins versus him this season than the Bucs, Browns or Rams have.

Thanks for "C'mon, man!" -- the surest way to make anyone smile on a Monday.

Thanks for my family for everything, not the least of which is allowing me to devote the time I do to work. Thanks for the health, blessings, friendships and peace we have. Thank you.

And now, on to this week's 10 Spot:

Don't look now, but there, coming up the block, on the verge of pulling into Mercury Morris' neighborhood, are the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts. There are road blocks in clear view, but none that look any more daunting than the ones each will encounter on their drive to perfection this weekend.

New Orleans plays host to the New England Patriots on Monday night in the next Game of the Year. Indianapolis visits the tough and angry Houston Texans. If the Saints and Colts emerge victorious this week, it will be time for the rest of the 1972 Miami Dolphins to whip out their pocket schedules and see what each team has left to encounter.

After this week, the Saints' remaining games are at Washington, at Atlanta, Dallas, Tampa Bay and at Carolina. Those are some challenging matchups. Still, don't expect the Saints to be underdogs in any of them.

After this week, the Colts' remaining games are against Tennessee, Denver, at Jacksonville, the New York Jets and at Buffalo. The Colts' slate is less challenging, and the Colts should be favorites in each game.

This is a crucial week. And if the Saints and Colts win their respective games, it's time for Morris and the rest of the '72 Dolphins to start getting uneasy. But here's where they can take some solace: As veteran football writer Rick Gosselin pointed out this week in The Dallas Morning News, none of the past three teams that started 10-0 -- the 2008 Titans, 2007 Patriots and 2005 Colts -- won a Super Bowl.

The Buccaneers, Browns and Rams are on the flip side of the Saints and Colts. The league's cellar dwellers are locked in a fierce battle for the No. 1 pick. The "winner" will have the ability to draft either Nebraska nose tackle Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.

It could come down to schedules. The Buccaneers have only two more home games, against the Jets and Falcons, in addition to road games at Atlanta, Carolina, Seattle and New Orleans; it's tough to find more than one more Bucs' victory.

The Browns close out their season at Cincinnati, San Diego, Pittsburgh, at Kansas City, Oakland and Jacksonville; there might be a Cleveland victory somewhere in there.

And the Rams finish their season against Seattle, at Chicago, at Tennessee, Houston, at Arizona and San Francisco; the Rams might have the toughest finish of the teams locked in the battle for the No. 1 pick. It's not the battle for home-field advantage in the playoffs, but it is a battle for which the ramifications might be even greater.

For all the plays he has made, for all the stats he has accumulated, Brett Favre never has accomplished some of the feats he has through this season's first 10 games. Consider this: Tom Brady's quarterback rating now is 100.4, Peyton Manning's is 102.7, Drew Brees' is 105.8. Favre's rating is an NFL- and career-best 112.1. If that weren't impressive enough, Favre has thrown fewer interceptions than any full-time starting quarterback: three. Favre's completion percentage is 69.7, one-tenth of a point less than Manning's 69.8. The 40-year-old Favre not only has become the most valuable player in Minnesota, but maybe the most valuable player in the league. Heading into Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears -- the team that was supposed to have landed the true difference-making quarterback last offseason -- Favre's numbers are as unreal as they are surreal.

Hard as it is to imagine, Favre and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers could be teammates one more time. If Pro Bowl voting goes according to the way the quarterbacks have played, Favre and Rodgers could play on the same NFC team at January's Pro Bowl in Miami. The NFC's three best quarterbacks this season have been Brees, Favre and Rodgers. It's hard to imagine another quarterback beating out any one of them, though Kurt Warner could make a push. Typically, Favre has stayed away from the Pro Bowl, but part of the reason that happened was the long flight to Hawaii. Plus, with the NFL placing more of an emphasis on player attendance, it's possible that Favre and Rodgers could be teammates again.

More than 10 years ago, then-Saints coach Mike Ditka made the seemingly outlandish trade of the Saints' entire 1999 draft, plus first- and third-round choices in 2000, in exchange for the Redskins' fifth overall pick and the chance to select Texas running back Ricky Williams. In turn, then-Redskins general manager Charley Casserly used three of the Saints' picks and traded the rest away.

But all these years later, as the 32-year-old Williams is leading the Dolphins on a playoff push that continues Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, it is worth reviewing all the players who were drafted with the picks that were traded for Williams. Of them, the only player still playing now is Bears tight end Desmond Clark -- so maybe Ditka did know exactly what he was doing. How many teams would make that deal today? Correct, all 32.

[+] EnlargeRob Bironas
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images The resurgent Titans are giving the rest of the NFL headaches.
Got a text from a Titans official early Tuesday morning that read, "There are probably a lot of people who don't want to play us." And how. The Titans have turned into what the Broncos were for the first six games of the season: unbeatable. Quarterback Vince Young has changed the way the Titans' games are played; Chris Johnson has challenged Adrian Peterson as the best running back in the league. These Titans resemble the team that dominated last season instead of the squad that struggled in the first six games this season. Now, after a 0-6 start, it's conceivable that the Titans could make the playoffs. But it will be the next two games that likely determine it. On Sunday, the Titans play the Cardinals, who are a different team on the road than they are at home. In fact, the Cardinals are much better guests; the Cardinals' road record this season is 5-0 compared to their 2-3 home record. In Week 13 the Titans play at Indianapolis -- enough said. If the Titans can sweep both games, they will have earned their 6-6 record -- as well as the chance to claim one of the AFC's two wild-card spots.

No team in football this season has endured the heartbreak that the Houston Texans have. Teams have had tough losses, but none rival the amount the 5-5 Texans have had. During Monday night's 20-17 loss against Tennessee, Houston kicker Kris Brown missed two 49-yard field goals, including one on the last play of the game. In Week 9 at Indianapolis, Brown missed a 42-yard field goal that would have tied the game and sent it to overtime. Then the Texans had a bye to stew about that tough loss before returning for the Monday night heartbreak.

Earlier this season, Texans running back Chris Brown fumbled just before he would have scored what would have been a game-winning touchdown against Jacksonville. And Brown also failed to get 1 yard on a fourth-and-goal play from the 1-yard line against Arizona, a play that could have sent the game to overtime. The Texans just as easily could be 9-1 as they are 5-5, but they have failed to convert in the red zone or in the clutch. Now they get a chance to redeem themselves Sunday versus the unbeaten Colts. It will not be easy. But none of the Texans' losses this season has been.

Jacksonville doesn't seem to care, not based on the number of tickets it sells to Jaguars games. But its team is making a push for the playoffs. Skeptics still are out there, and rightfully so. The Jaguars have scored 199 points and allowed 235, and yet somehow have found a way to post a 6-4 record. They are the only playoff contender in the league with such a large negative differential in points scored versus points allowed. Part of the reason could be the Jaguars' schedule. Outside of the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints, the Jaguars have had the easiest schedule in the league. Their opponents' record is a combined 44-56. Now comes a real test, Sunday in San Francisco. If the Jaguars can win it, they set themselves up with a 7-4 record, heading into three straight home games against Houston, Miami and Indianapolis, three playoff contenders. But many around the league are skeptical of the Jaguars and think this could be the time when the slide starts.
[+] EnlargeJ.P. Losman
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireFormer Bills QB J.P. Losman hopes his UFL foray opens doors in the NFL again.

Aside from their coaching search, the Buffalo Bills haven't given many people many reasons to follow them. But two former Bills are having standout seasons in spots few are looking. Former Bills linebacker Jim Haslett, who would love to land Buffalo's head-coaching job, has led the UFL's Florida Tuskers to a 6-0 record. Former Bills quarterback J.P. Losman, who is good enough to get another chance in the NFL, has led the UFL's Las Vegas Locomotives to a 4-2 record. Now, Haslett's team and Losman's team will square off at 3 p.m. Friday in Las Vegas for the UFL Championship. Not that there will be any rush, but the next day, UFL players are free to sign with NFL teams. With Losman having completed 102-of-163 passes for 1,193 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions, he is likely to find NFL work this offseason.

The Schef's Specialties

Game of the week: New England at New Orleans -- A team that knows plenty about being unbeaten now takes on one of the game's two unbeatens in what will be an electric atmosphere.

Player of the week: Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan -- He's going back home, where he has played like a different player than he has on the road.

Upset of the week: Houston over Indianapolis -- A Texans team that has found ways to lose finds a way to win.

Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.