- Adam Schefter, NFL
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As San Diego prepares for a pivotal game against the New England Patriots, the Chargers are struggling. But former Chargers are not.
Check out the list of former Chargers excelling in their post-San Diego stops this season. It's a veritable all-star team that could nicely supplement or complement the current crop of Chargers talent.
• Quarterback: The New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees -- With Brees as the point man, the Saints are back to looking like the Saints.
• Running back: The New York Jets' LaDainian Tomlinson and the Atlanta Falcons' Michael Turner -- They are, respectively, the NFL's seventh- and ninth-leading rushers this season; San Diego's leading rusher, Mike Tolbert, ranks 24th.
• Special teams: The Jacksonville Jaguars' Kassim Osgood -- Still one of the league's top special-teams players.
Almost every one of these players is vital to his current team. Many are performing at a Pro Bowl level, if not at the peak of their careers. It is a testament to the Chargers and an indictment of the Chargers, all at once.
Nobody is better than San Diego at producing fish tacos and football talent.
Now, on to this week's 10 Spot:
In what really, truly, amazingly could and should be his last game at Lambeau Field, Brett Favre will make at least one final piece of history in Green Bay. Favre will start his 119th game at Lambeau, more games than any quarterback has ever started at an NFL stadium. Favre is now tied with former Broncos quarterback John Elway, who started 118 games at Denver's Mile High Stadium. And if that weren't intriguing enough, it also will be Randy Moss' first game at Lambeau since the 2005 postseason, when he pretended to moon Packers fans after scoring a touchdown. Favre and Moss returning to Green Bay would rank only slightly below Art Modell and LeBron James reuniting in Cleveland.
Players don't get to decide where they are traded, teams do. But it is fair to wonder if Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb, who square off Sunday in Chicago, would be willing to trade places. Cutler might be more comfortable in Mike Shanahan's offense in Washington, where the Redskins have allowed only 14 sacks compared with the Bears' 27. McNabb might be more comfortable in Chicago, the city in which he was born and raised and previously had hoped to return. It's not hard to figure why Cutler would welcome the change. In his final season in Denver with Shanahan, Cutler was sacked 11 times in 616 passing attempts (1.8 percent of his throws); this season, Cutler has been sacked 23 times on 141 throws (16.3 percent).
Buffalo has hope (not this season, but in future ones). Two people with knowledge of the quarterback class of 2011 predicted it will rival, and perhaps even surpass, the quarterback class of 1983. Top quarterback prospects include Stanford's Andrew Luck, Washington's Jake Locker, Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, Missouri's Blaine Gabbert and Florida State's Christian Ponder. But there will be plenty to endure until then. One NFL executive predicted last week that the Bills would not win a game this season and they would join the 2008 Lions as the only team in NFL history to compile an 0-16 record. The Bills have allowed 30 or more points in four straight games for the first time in franchise history, and have been outscored 161-87 collectively. "It's as bad as you could possibly get," Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams said after the team's loss to Jacksonville. Hope is ahead.
It's a lot easier to figure what's wrong with the Cowboys than it is to fix them. Dallas is committing too many penalties and turning over the football too much. In a Week 1 loss to Washington, Dallas had 12 penalties and had one turnover. In a Week 2 loss to Chicago, it committed six penalties and had three turnovers. Compare those mistakes to a Week 3 win over Houston, when Dallas had eight penalties and no turnovers. No coincidence. But then, after its bye week in which it had time to correct some of its mistakes before it played Tennessee, Dallas had 12 penalties and three turnovers. Then last Sunday at Minnesota, Dallas had 11 penalties and two turnovers. Dallas isn't getting beat; it's beating itself.
That said, be on the lookout for the Cowboys and the Chargers. Despite all their troubles -- and they have been numerous -- they are the only teams in the league that line up top-five offenses and top-five defenses. The Cowboys rank third in the league in total offense, fourth in the league in pass offense, fourth in the league in total defense and fourth in the league in pass defense. The Chargers rank first in the league in offense, first in the league in pass offense, first in the league in total defense and first in the league in pass defense. As down as these two teams are now, they are far from dead.
About five years ago, the New York Giants signed former Penn State linebacker Derek Wake and cut him before training camp. Wake tried to reinvent himself. He started going by his middle name, Cameron, and went to the Canadian Football League, where he racked up 39 sacks in two seasons and became the league's two-time defensive player of the year. When he decided to return to the NFL, Cameron Wake had more than a dozen serious offers, the best two coming from Indianapolis and Miami. Indianapolis wanted to team him with Dwight Freeney, Miami wanted him to one day replace Jason Taylor. Because the Dolphins' contract structure was better, Wake chose Miami. The Dolphins are glad he did. In his first season with Miami, Wake had 5½ sacks playing only 15 percent of the Dolphins' plays. In his second season, Wake is tied for fourth in the league with six sacks and is on pace to finish with 19, which would break the franchise's 37-year-old record of 18½ that Taylor shares with Bill Stanfill. He has turned himself into a pass-rushing force who is as quick and as low to the ground as any player in the league.
Before last year's trade deadline, Green Bay made overtures to see if it could pry running back Steven Jackson from St. Louis. The Rams never even considered it. It's easy to see why. When St. Louis plays at Tampa Bay, Jackson probably will pass Eric Dickerson and become the Rams' all-time leading rusher. Dickerson rushed for 7,245 yards in five seasons with the Rams; in his seven seasons with the Rams, Jackson is at 7,214. In recent seasons, the Rams have been so bad that few noticed how good Jackson was. The Rams' record book will reflect it after Sunday.
Lost in the hullabaloo of trading Randy Moss and trading for Deion Branch has been the emergence of unheralded Patriots running back Danny Woodhead. With New England trading Laurence Maroney and losing Kevin Faulk and Fred Taylor to injury, the Patriots signed the diminutive Woodhead. He since has emerged as a legitimate third-down threat. In each of the Patriots' past three games, his numbers and use have increased to the point that Woodhead rushed 11 times for 63 yards and caught five passes for 52 yards on Sunday against Baltimore. Crazy as this sounds, Woodhead actually looks like a less-shifty running back version of Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker.
For all the issues the league is confronting, the competitiveness of its teams is not one of them. Amazingly, seven weeks into the season, 13 teams are in or have a share of first place in their respective divisions, the most at this point in a season in NFL history. That means 40.6 percent of the league is in first place. It's early, but it's wide open.
If it seems like special teams have influenced games more this season than ever before, it's because they have. When the Vikings' Percy Harvin returned a kickoff for a touchdown against the Cowboys last Sunday, it continued a trend the NFL never has seen before. This is the first season in league history in which at least one kickoff has been returned for a touchdown in each of the first six weeks of the season, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Going for seven straight weeks Sunday -- does anyone doubt it will happen?
The Schef's Specialties
Game of the Week: Minnesota at Green Bay -- Forget about the other subplots; the team that loses here will have a tough time making playoffs.
Player of the Week: Chargers RB Ryan Mathews -- With injuries to San Diego's wide receivers, it's time for Mathews to show why the Chargers traded up for him.
Upset of the Week: Arizona over Seattle -- Seahawks have been tough at home, but Arizona quarterback Max Hall has given the Cardinals hope.
Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.
The Chargers are struggling, but many of their former players are excelling, writes Adam Schefter.