Playoffs could take Vick back to Atlanta
Eagles quarterback could be on collision course with his original team
Michael Vick's season has been magic. Whether it's a Monday night offensive explosion in Washington or another Miracle at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, no player in football has captivated more than Vick.
And now, he has positioned himself and his team for one of the most captivating postseason matchups in recent memory.
If the season ended today, the Falcons would be their conference's No. 1 seed, the Eagles would be their conference's No. 3 seed, and they could be on a collision course to meet in the NFC Championship Game.
Vick back in Atlanta.
There cannot be a matchup that would inspire as much anticipation and create as much intrigue.
An Eagles-Giants rematch would be must-see TV. Ravens-Steelers always is. Jets-Patriots is compelling. Saints-Falcons would be a rematch of this Monday night's newest Game of the Year.
But Vick in Atlanta for a conference championship would be better. It would be like LeBron James returning to Cleveland, Brett Favre returning to Green Bay, Donovan McNabb returning to Philadelphia. Only better.
On to this week's 10 Spot:
2. Free-agent twists: Because of the lack of a new collective bargaining agreement, no one knows when NFL free agency begins. But when it does, it will have a twist unlike any the NFL has witnessed. Veteran wide receivers Terrell Owens, Randy Moss and Plaxico Burress are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason. It's hard to think of a free-agent class that included such high-profile names at such low points in their careers. Owens' season ended Sunday with a knee injury, and according to a league source, the Bengals have no plans to bring him back to Cincinnati despite the fact that he scored nine touchdowns. Moss hasn't been targeted with a single pass the past two weeks and has 375 receiving yards this season, putting him on pace for the worst season of his career. Burress is expected to be paroled at some point this spring, in time to go to a training camp. Amazing as it is, someone being released from prison might be more desirable to teams than either Owens or Moss. Call it the Michael Vick effect. But were this 2005 instead of 2010, the free-agent class of Owens, Moss and Burress would create mass excitement. Now it's just simple curiosity.
4. Playoff oddity: Hard as this is to imagine, either the 8-6 Green Bay Packers or 9-5 New York Giants will not be going to the playoffs, while St. Louis, Seattle or San Francisco will host a playoff game. Bizarre. There's not a team in the NFC West/Worst that has a positive points differential right now, and the season probably will finish that way. The Rams have been outscored by 37 points, the Seahawks by 84, the 49ers by 64 and the Cardinals by 115. The NFC West's collective point differential is a preposterous minus-300, the surest sign of how weak the division is. It is the NFL's worst division in recent memory, and it could be bad for a while. Only St. Louis has a franchise quarterback it knows it can build around. Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona have major quarterback questions, which means this division is shaping up as an NFC version of the AFC South, where Indianapolis had Peyton Manning and every other team had questions and a struggle to catch the Colts. But if either St. Louis or Seattle can win its final two games -- and only one can, because they meet in the regular-season finale -- it will win the West.
6. Another quarterback chases record: While Brady could set a record Sunday, Peyton Manning also is threatening to make his own NFL history. With 608 passing attempts this season, Manning is on pace to throw 695 passes, which would be four more than the season NFL record that Drew Bledsoe set with the Patriots in 1994. Second place belongs to former Oilers quarterback Warren Moon, who in 1991 attempted 655 passes, a number Manning almost assuredly will surpass. But it will take 84 passing attempts in his final two games at Oakland and against Tennessee to give Manning another slice of NFL history.
7. Working despite illness: Since his cancer diagnosis just before Thanksgiving, Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger hasn't missed a day of work, according to a team official. Heimerdinger has continued to draw up game plans, implementing them and even calling plays, which he will do again Sunday at Kansas City. Heimerdinger did shave his head Thursday, knowing that his hair soon would be falling out, and he has lost 13 pounds, but not because of his illness. His wife, Kathi, has put him on a strict diet of chicken, fish and raw vegetables, and he also has cut out diet soda and chewing tobacco. Heimerdinger insists he feels great and intends to keep coaching for seasons to come. With anywhere from six to 10 teams expected to change head coaches this offseason, one NFL executive predicted that Heimerdinger could wind up going from cancer patient to coaching commodity, interviewing for head-coaching jobs. (Here's more on Heimerdinger in this week's Hot Read on ESPN.com.)
9. Familiar echoes for Giants? Before there was The Crumble at the New Meadowlands on Sunday, there was The Fumble in 1978, when Eagles defensive back Herm Edwards recovered a Joe Pisarcik fumble and returned it 26 yards for a winning touchdown. The Fumble changed the course of the Giants franchise. After the 1978 season, it declined to renew head coach John McVay's contract and opted to hire then-Chargers assistant Ray Perkins, who brought with him a young new defensive coordinator named Bill Parcells. New York hired George Young as its general manager, whose first signature move was drafting linebacker Lawrence Taylor. The kneel-down play in the NFL also was legitimized. And the rest was history. Now Giants head coach Tom Coughlin will be heading into the final season of his contract. New York must decide whether to extend the deal, bring him back as a lame-duck head coach, or fire one of the most respected head coaches in the game, which is the least likely of the three options. What's more certain is that teams now will be more careful than ever about punting the football out of bounds in the closing seconds lest they become the latest victims of a walk-off punt return.
10. Putting up points: Hits leveled on Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, Ravens tight end Todd Heap and Browns wide receivers Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi in Week 6 changed the tone of the season and outcomes of games. Since controversial helmet-to-helmet hits on those players were delivered and the NFL rules were more strictly enforced, scoring has increased. Now it is getting later in the season and colder outside and players are worn down. Yet scoring is up. Since Week 7, the average points per game has increased 4.2, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In Weeks 1-6, each game averaged 41.8 points. Since the NFL's crackdown, the average has increased to 46. So the NFL got two things it wanted: a semi-safer playing environment and more points on the scoreboard.
The Schef's specialties
• Game of the week: New York Giants at Green Bay. Only one of these teams is going to make the playoffs.
• Player of the week: Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. After going three straight games without a touchdown pass, Bradford is due for a big game in a big spot.
• Upset of the week: Cleveland over Baltimore. The Ravens can clinch a playoff spot with a win, but the Browns are a pesky, gritty out.
Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.
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