- Adam Schefter, NFL
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Through the first half of the season, arguments can be made for roughly a half-dozen worthy MVP candidates.
Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews has become a prolific playmaker, piling up an NFL-leading 10.5 sacks.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has propelled his team to a 6-2 record despite the loss of key personnel.
Peyton Manning has played as though the Indianapolis Colts haven't lost any key players when in fact they have been without tight end Dallas Clark, running back Joseph Addai and wide receiver Austin Collie.
Houston Texans running back Arian Foster leads the NFL with 864 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
But through the first half of the season, no player has been more valuable than Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. In a wild season that has seen Randy Moss play for three teams, Wade Phillips lose a head-coaching job for a team that many picked to go to a Super Bowl and Brett Favre battle with the man who once chauffeured him to the Minnesota Vikings' training facility, no storyline has been more surprising than the Lazarus-like performance of Vick.
In the games in which Vick has played the entire game, the Eagles are 3-0. In the three wins with Vick, the Eagles have averaged 29.7 points and looked as though they could explode for more at any moment.
Vick leads the NFL with a 105.3 passer rating. He has improved his fundamentals and mechanics and still has not thrown an interception. Vick is playing well enough to take the Eagles to Super Bowl XLV and take home the NFL MVP award.
Now, on to this week's 10 Spot.
Gauging Garrett's future: In the winter of 2008, the Baltimore Ravens wanted to hire Jason Garrett as their head coach; they settled for John Harbaugh. The Atlanta Falcons wanted to hire Garrett; they settled for Mike Smith. It just goes to prove that sometimes the window doesn't stay open long to cash a head-coaching ticket.
Now, Garrett has the chance to have the "interim" tag removed from his title as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. But he also finds himself fighting to preserve his coaching status. If the Cowboys perform well in the second half of the season, Garrett could be kept on as Cowboys head coach. But in the more likely event they don't, Garrett will seek work elsewhere, as an offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach, as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones calls authoritative head-coaching candidates such as Jon Gruden. Garrett's Cowboys head-coaching interview starts Sunday in New York, against arguably the NFC's toughest opponent.
By now, it seems like a different season for New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin. Remember less than six weeks ago? With New York struggling to a 1-2 start, former Giants running back Tiki Barber told Yahoo Sports that his former head coach was fumbling in a different kind of way. "I don't know if he's completely lost control of the team, but it's definitely slipping away," Barber told Yahoo about Coughlin. "Right now, Tom Coughlin is at a crisis. His job certainly is in jeopardy."
The comment now seems way off. Some declared Coughlin to be in trouble when, in fact, the Giants' opponents were. Since Coughlin was said to be losing his grip, the Giants have reeled off five straight wins. In those five wins, the Giants have averaged 32.2 points and surrendered 15 a game. Three of those five wins have been on the road, including the past two, at Dallas and Seattle. Heading into Sunday's game versus Dallas, the Giants have looked as formidable as they did when they won the Super Bowl in the 2007 season. Coughlin is, not surprisingly, safe. No more rumors of Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden or John Fox coming to New York. Now, there are rumors of Cowher, Gruden and Fox going to Dallas.
Minnesota has never won a Super Bowl, but it has no problems producing head coaches who can. Before Tony Dungy led the Colts to a Super Bowl victory, he was the Vikings' defensive coordinator from 1992-95. "Everyone who knew Tony knew he'd be a great head coach," said former Vikings wide receiver Cris Carter, who is now an analyst for ESPN. Before Brian Billick led the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory, he was the Vikings' offensive coordinator from 1993-98. "You could tell how smart he was," Carter said of Billick.
And before Mike Tomlin led the Pittsburgh Steelers to a Super Bowl victory, he was the Vikings' defensive coordinator in 2006. Tomlin's successor, Leslie Frazier, is a head-coach-in-waiting. But the question becomes whether he is waiting to do it in Minnesota or another city. This is one of the subplots to the uncertainty surrounding Brad Childress' future in Minnesota. The Vikings cannot watch another coordinator leave their city only to lead another city to a championship. Speak to enough people around the league and one thing becomes apparent: The soft-spoken and ultra-smart Frazier will be an NFL head coach in 2011. The question is, where?
As good as Minnesota has been as serving as a head-coach breeding ground, no team has produced more decorated defensive coordinators than the Giants.Its list of former defensive coordinators includes Tom Landry, Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, John Fox and Steve Spagnuolo. Not a bad roll call there. And now, this season's Giants defensive coordinator, Perry Fewell, is making his mark. Even though New York has seemed vulnerable to the run at times, the Giants have the NFL's top-ranked overall defense, the NFC's top-ranked rushing defense and the NFC's second-ranked passing defense. Fewell provided a hint of his coaching capabilities last season, when he took over as the Buffalo Bills' head coach from Dick Jauron after the ninth game. In the final seven games, Fewell led the Bills -- who are winless this season -- to a 3-4 record.
One of the driving forces in the Tennessee Titans' decision to claim wide receiver Randy Moss was team owner Bud Adams. For starters, Adams signed off on picking up the $3.38 million remaining on Moss' contract. But beyond that, Adams took an active interest in seeing where the team stood, repeatedly calling Titans coach Jeff Fisher for updates on the Moss situation and gauging his team's chances of landing the former Vikings wide receiver. When Tennessee was awarded Moss on waivers, Adams was said to be "ecstatic." With good reason. Moss gives the Titans another weapon and he gives them buzz, which Adams welcomes. Moss' first game as a Titan, Sunday in Miami against the Chad Pennington-led Dolphins, will generate nationwide interest. In Week 11, the Titans return home to play the Washington Redskins and their former defensive tackle, Albert Haynesworth. The spotlight that has shined on Minnesota now will shine on the Titans for the next few Sundays, and possibly beyond.
Former St. Louis Rams head coach Rich Brooks knew how to groom talent when he was Kentucky head coach. In 2008, Brooks coached two seniors, wide receiver Steve Johnson and tight end Jacob Tamme, who have become two of this season's bigger surprises and fantasy sleepers. Johnson, who has six touchdown catches, is a standout for Buffalo. In his two starts since tight end Dallas Clark was placed on injured reserve, the Colts' Tamme has caught 17 passes for 172 yards -- 11 more passes for 125 more yards than he had during his first 2½ seasons in the league.
Sometimes all the money teams spend on scouting can't provide the information they need. Coming out of Georgia, No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford was regarded as a sturdy quarterback, a player the Lions could build around for the future. Coming out of Oklahoma, No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford was regarded as a medical risk, a quarterback whose biggest questions involved his shoulder. Now, Stafford has suffered his second significant injury to his right shoulder and his fourth major injury in the NFL. Bradford has led the Rams into a position where some consider them to be the favorites to win the NFC West. Stafford now faces the type of medical questions that once dogged Bradford, and Bradford has been the type of anchor that most thought Stafford would become. Go figure.
It's bad enough that Pittsburgh lost starting left tackle Max Starks to a season-ending neck injury. The Steelers already had lost starting right tackle Willie Colon in March to a season-ending Achilles injury. Not many teams would be able to survive the loss of both starting offensive tackles. But if one team is built to be able to do it, it's Pittsburgh. Flozell Adams already has done a commendable job replacing Colon. And now Jonathan Scott, a former Buffalo Bills castoff, is expected to try to replace Starks at left tackle. Scott surrendered 8.5 sacks in eight games last year, which is why Pittsburgh was the only team interested in him last offseason before it signed him to a veteran minimum contract. Now, Scott will be responsible for Ben Roethlisberger's blindside.
New England picked a poor time for a tough loss in Cleveland. Now comes the teeth of the Patriots' schedule. It's not just Sunday night's game in Pittsburgh in what might be a battle of football's two best teams. In Week 11, the Patriots return home for a game against the Indianapolis Colts, then have a short work week before a Thanksgiving Day game at Detroit, and then a Monday night game at home against the Jets. It will be the toughest stretch in the Patriots' schedule and it probably will determine whether they can win the AFC East.
To revive its offense and its season, Denver must get its running game going like former Denver Broncos back Peyton Hillis has it going for the Cleveland Browns. This season, his first in Cleveland after Denver traded him to the Browns last spring, Hillis has outrushed the entire Broncos roster by himself. Hillis has 133 carries for 644 yards, a 4.8-yard average and seven touchdowns. Broncos running backs have 185 carries for 538 yards, a 2.9-yard average and five touchdowns. Denver got the better of Cleveland in two AFC Championship Games, but Cleveland got the better of Denver on this trade.
The Schef's specialties
• Game of the week: Patriots at Steelers. It's a potential AFC Championship Game preview.
• Player of the week: Giants QB Eli Manning. Bad news for Cowboys interim head coach Jason Garrett: In Week 7, Manning threw for 306 yards and four touchdowns against Dallas.
• Upset of the week: Bears over Vikings. Standings and records say it's not an upset, but it is.
Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.
In his look at Week 10, Adam Schefter writes about Michael Vick as an MVP candidate, Jason Garrett's audition for the Cowboys' head-coaching job and the Steelers' offensive line woes.