Steve Smith's injury leaves the Carolina Panthers with no established big-play threats at wide receiver.
1. Cadillac Williams, running back, Tampa Bay. One thing about coach Raheem Morris that sets him apart from most other coaches is he’s not afraid to telegraph his moves. During the bye week, he made it pretty clear that the Bucs are going to cut down on Williams’ carries and try to insert LeGarrette Blount and Kareem Huggins more often.
3. New Orleans’ offensive line. It’s not what it was a year ago. That’s a little disappointing because the line returned intact, but it hasn’t been dominant. Drew Brees is getting pressured more than usual, the running game’s been only ordinary and All-Pro guard Jahri Evans has developed a sudden knack for getting called for holding penalties.
1. Curtis Lofton, linebacker, Falcons. He’s been a pretty good middle linebacker in his first two seasons. But the knock on Lofton was that he didn’t make big plays, and he talked this summer about how he wanted to change that. It’s happening. In Sunday’s victory against San Francisco, Lofton had nine tackles, a sack and an interception. A few more big plays and Lofton could be a strong candidate for the Pro Bowl.
2. Roddy White, receiver, Falcons. It’s hard to put White’s stock much higher than it already was. We declared him the best receiver in the NFC South last week. But White went out and took his game to a higher level Sunday. He made one of the most incredible plays of his career and it didn’t even involve him catching the ball. After Nate Clements had a late interception, White ran him down from behind and popped the ball loose to cause a fumble that the Falcons recovered. Atlanta then went on a drive and kicked the game-winning field goal.
3. Usama Young, safety, Saints. He’s usually just a special-teams player. But a series of injuries forced him into the strong safety spot in Sunday’s victory against Carolina. With the Panthers close to the range where they could kick a game-winning field goal, Young stepped up and had a tackle where he dropped DeAngelo Williams for a four-yard loss. That and a sack by free safety Malcolm Jenkins on the next play took the Panthers definitively out of field-goal range.