Commentary

Playoffs could take Vick back to Atlanta

Eagles quarterback could be on collision course with his original team

Originally Published: December 24, 2010
By Adam Schefter | ESPN.com

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:

1. Falcons roost: The Falcons are home for the holidays, and perhaps well beyond. If Atlanta wins one of its two remaining home games -- Monday night against the Saints, then a regular-season finale against Carolina -- the Falcons would not have to travel again unless they made it to Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas, on Feb. 6. The Falcons are 6-0 at home this season, and quarterback Matt Ryan sports a 19-1 record in Atlanta. Ryan has been almost as tough to beat in Atlanta as Tom Brady has been in New England. (Brady has won 27 straight regular-season games at home.) Both quarterbacks stand a good chance of staying home the entire month of January.

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.

[+] EnlargeTamba Hali
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesThe Chiefs' pass rush, led by Tamba Hali, has been effective this season.
3. Another future in doubt: And then there's Chad Ochocinco, another wide receiver whose future in Cincinnati is in question. Earlier this week, Ochocinco tweeted: "#OCNNPoll Could you be an NFL owner and if you were here's the question: Do u pick up PePe 6 million dollar option or let him go? #business". It's an interesting question that Bengals president Mike Brown faces. Is it worth picking up a $6 million option bonus for a receiver who turns 33 next month and tweets more than he scores? Ochocinco implies in his tweet that, if this decision is based strictly on business, it does not make sense to bring him back. At this point, the best course of action for both sides might be to start fresh. Cincinnati would lose some of the shenanigans that Ochocinco brings while saving $6 million in straight cash, and Ochocinco would get to finish out his career with another franchise. Not a bad deal for either side. But consider this: Owens will be gone, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis could be going because his contract is expiring, and Carson Palmer's future in Cincinnati is in question. This offseason, no franchise faces more big decisions, and upheaval, than the Bengals. And it could be bye-bye for Pepe.

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.

5. Superhuman Brady: Sometimes Patriots quarterback Tom Brady seems as inhuman as his interceptionless streak. Brady hasn't thrown an interception since Oct. 17 against the Baltimore Ravens. The streak spans 292 consecutive passes and puts Brady in position to break the NFL's longest interception-free streak Sunday in Buffalo. He must throw 17 more passes without an interception to supplant former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar, who threw 308 straight passes from 1990-91 without an interception. And for what it's worth, at the time of their streaks, Kosar and Brady both were coached by Bill Belichick. Isn't his background supposed to be in defense?

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.)

Chad Ochocinco
Bob Donnan/US PresswireShould the Bengals bring back Chad Ochocinco? No word on what the receiver's followers on Twitter say to that one.
8. Hail to the Chiefs: Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel proved this past Sunday how tough he is. Everyone already knew Kansas City's No. 1-ranked rushing offense was tough. But what consistently is overlooked in Kansas City is the Chiefs' pass rush. Two seasons after the Chiefs finished the season with only 10 sacks, and one season after the Chiefs had 22 sacks, they already have 31 sacks -- and two games still left to play. Linebacker Tamba Hali, a former first-round pick, leads the team with 11 sacks and stands a chance to lead the league this season. He is three sacks behind Dolphins linebacker Cameron Wake, but Hali has played well enough this season to make a difference on Kansas City's defense and to get voted to his first Pro Bowl.

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.