NFL Nation: NFC Stock Watch 2011 Week 10

NFC South Stock Watch

November, 15, 2011
11/15/11
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

[+] EnlargeRaheem Morris
AP Photo/Brian BlancoRaheem Morris' Bucs have now dropped their past three games.
1. Raheem Morris, Buccaneers coach. There’s a strong perception by some members of media and fans that the Bucs “quit’’ on Morris in Sunday’s loss. When you’re considered the ultimate players’ coach, that’s a horrible sign. The Bucs already have picked up Morris’ contract option for 2012. But it’s tough to see them extending him if things continue going the way they are. Ask the Carolina Panthers how well it works when you let a coach go into a season as a lame duck. Morris bristles when there’s talk about him being on the hot seat. But guess what? He just might be on the hot seat if things don’t improve dramatically in a hurry.

2. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers quarterback. I still think he is an enormous talent. But the Bucs are running the risk of ruining him. Freeman already has thrown 13 interceptions, which is more than he threw all of last season. There’s no doubt Freeman deserves some of the blame. But I think he has been hurt by a supporting cast that has been more than disappointing and the coaches haven’t put Freeman in positions where he can succeed.

3. Roddy White, Falcons receiver. I’m trying really hard to figure out how White has gone from being perhaps the best receiver in the league last season to a mistake machine this season. He had a pass go off his hands that turned into an interception and was called for two key penalties Sunday. When Julio Jones went down with an injury, the Falcons didn’t even look to White as their go-to guy. Instead, they went to Harry Douglas.

RISING

1. Marques Colston, Saints receiver. Colston was incredible on third downs Sunday. He caught four passes on third downs and turned each of them into a first down. He doesn’t get the full credit he deserves because the Saints have so many other weapons on offense and they use them all nicely. But there’s no question the Saints wouldn’t have won Sunday if they didn’t have Colston.

2. Will Smith and Shaun Rogers, Saints defensive linemen. They’re the two players who were the first to get to Michael Turner on the infamous fourth-down play that won the game in overtime for the Saints. Rogers hasn’t had a huge impact most of the season. But he seemed to get a good jump on the snap count and moved right into the hole where Turner was supposed to go.

3. Roman Harper, Saints safety. Yeah, I know people like to say Harper is a liability in coverage and there probably is some truth to that. But Harper is a strong safety and they often are the weakest member of the secondary when it comes to coverage. He also dropped what should have been an easy interception against Atlanta. But hey, at least he was in the right place in coverage for once. Harper compensates for his shortcomings in other ways. He had a sack and was in on 10 tackles Sunday. Harper has a team-high 6.5 sacks. When’s the last time you saw a safety with 6.5 sacks through 10 games?

NFC North Stock Watch

November, 15, 2011
11/15/11
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. My ability to defend the Detroit Lions' aggression: Nothing that happened Sunday at Soldier Field will change the emerging national narrative of the Lions as a dirty team. And in all fairness, it's getting harder and harder to split hairs in explaining the difference between tough and dirty as it relates to their play. Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said the Lions play to the "echo" of the whistle, and that's a fair and accurate way to describe it from a technical standpoint.. But visuals of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh ripping off Bears quarterback Jay Cutler's helmet, and Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford slinging the Bears' D.J. Moore to the ground by his helmet, carry far more weight in the court of public opinion. Monday, coach Jim Schwartz asked why no one was calling the hit by Bears defensive end Julius Peppers on receiver Calvin Johnson dirty. It was a "clothesline right in the neck area," Schwartz said. Technically, Schwartz is right. But the volume of instances the Lions have produced this season, explainable or otherwise, is reaching critical mass.

2. Minnesota Vikings' competitiveness vs. Green Bay Packers: The Packers are supposed to be the Vikings' top rivals, but the Vikings have produced a number of complete clunkers against them in recent years. They lost 45-7 Monday night, absorbed a 31-3 loss at home in 2010 and were embarrassed 34-3 at Lambeau Field in 2007. We should give the Packers some credit for their performances in those games, but on each occasion the Vikings seemed mentally disengaged from the start. Monday night's game seemed over as soon as the Packers' Randall Cobb returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown -- with all of one minute and 18 seconds gone in the game. NFL teams have to show up 16 days a year. For some reason, the Vikings are habitually missing that train against a division rival.

3. Remi Ayodele, Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle: Although he has not been seeing much playing time, Ayodele had started the Vikings' first eight games as the free agent replacement for nose tackle Pat Williams. In those eight games, Ayodele was unofficially credited with two tackles. The Vikings finally replaced him in the starting lineup Monday night with rookie Christian Ballard, who is a better pass rusher. Ayodele isn't the reason why the Vikings are 2-7, but he has to qualify as one of the least productive free agent acquisitions in recent memory. He signed a three-year, $9 million deal that includes $4.25 million in 2011 compensation.

RISING

[+] EnlargeDevin Hester
Mike DiNovo/US PresswireTeammate Brian Urlacher thinks Bears return man Devin Hester belongs in the Hall of Fame.
1. Canton credentials for Devin Hester, Chicago Bears returner: Hester is one return away from tying the NFL record for touchdown returns of 19, set by Deion Sanders. He's reached that precipice in less than half the career games it took Sanders and, at 29, would seem to have a number of highly productive years remaining in his career. It's reasonable to believe he'll not just break Sanders' record but ultimately crush it. So if Hester's career arc rises so high above the best returners in NFL history, it would be hard for Hall of Fame voters to ignore him. Here's the way Urlacher put it Monday: "He's the greatest of all time at what he does, and in my opinion, when you're the greatest of all time at your position you should be in the Hall of Fame. He is a first-ballot Hall of Famer in my opinion."

2. Dom Capers, Packers defensive coordinator: We don't have a recording of every word he spoke last week, but we can assume that Capers took cornerback Charles Woodson's blunt assessment of the Packers defense in stride. Capers started coaching four years before Woodson was born, but you're never too experienced to tune out constructive criticism. We'll never know what Capers would have done Monday night had Woodson not spoken out, but he certainly reinforced his reputation as a flexible manager by turning loose his players on the blitz. "That's the great thing about Dom," Woodson said. "You can talk to him. Tell him what's on your mind. Tell him what you think."

3. Bears competitiveness in the NFC North: After watching the Packers' three-phase romp Monday night, it's hard to conceive them not winning the division. But of all the teams remaining on their schedule, the Bears might be the most formidable. One way to stop a high-flying offense is to hit it in the proverbial mouth and then capitalize on mistakes. One of the few things the Vikings did to the Packers was put pressure on quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was sacked three times and was forced to scramble away from pressure on six other plays. The Bears can put the same kind of pressure on Rodgers and are better equipped to take advantage of that situation. We'll see if the teams' Week 16 matchup carries any postseason implications.

NFC East Stock Watch

November, 15, 2011
11/15/11
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. DeSean Jackson's prospects of a future in Philadelphia. Sunday began with the startling news that Jackson had skipped an Eagles team meeting and would be benched for the game against the Cardinals. A lot of other things happened in that game, and the Eagles lost it and probably slipped out of the playoff race. But the bigger, beyond-this-season issue is that of Jackson, who wants a new long-term contract, hasn't helped his chances of getting one with the way he has played this season, and now this missed-meeting fiasco. The Eagles could apply the franchise tag to Jackson next year if they want to keep him around for another season but not make the long-term commitment. But if he's already this unhappy, and he's not producing the way he used to, this might just be a marriage that needs to end.

2. Eagles' health. During that Arizona game, quarterback Michael Vick broke some ribs and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin hurt his shoulder and hamstring. Now it looks as though the status of both players is in question for Sunday night's game against the first-place New York Giants, and obviously the Eagles are at a point where they can no longer lose any more games. On the bright side, Jackson should be healthy and well-rested, right?

3. Redskins' luck. Washington's run of injuries at key positions has been well-chronicled here, and their season was already sunk before rookie wide receiver Leonard Hankerson went on IR with a hip injury. But the Hankerson injury is a kick in the gut for a Redskins team that was hoping to see more of him in the second half of the season in an effort to determine what role he might have on next year's team. Hankerson had a breakout game Sunday, catching eight passes for 106 yards before his injury, and now Washington fans don't even get to enjoy watching a talented rookie develop during an otherwise lost season.

RISING

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesTony Romo was on top of his game Sunday against the Bills.
1. Dallas Cowboys' playoff hopes. Dallas is one game behind the Giants now and still has two head-to-head matchups against them to come. Their first meeting will be in Dallas on Dec. 11. Between now and then, the Cowboys will play the Redskins, Dolphins and Cardinals, while the Giants play the Eagles, Saints and Packers. It's not unreasonable to think Dallas could even be in first place by the time it faces the Giants, and regardless, that game and their Week 17 matchup loom as potentially decisive games in the NFC East race. The Cowboys may have had some problems early, but the schedule favors them the rest of the way. And with the head-to-head games against New York still on the schedule, their fate is in their hands.

2. Tony Romo's health. Finally fully recovered from the broken ribs he suffered in a Week 2 victory over the 49ers, the Cowboys' quarterback played one of the best games of his life Sunday in thrashing the Buffalo Bills. After the game, he said it was the first time since that San Francisco game that he felt fully healthy. And if that means he's going to play like this the rest of the way (and stay away from those pesky second-half interceptions that did him in a couple of times earlier this year), that's a scary thought.

3. Rex Grossman. Hey, look. A week ago he wasn't one of the 32 men in the world who could call themselves a starting NFL quarterback, and this week he is. So, rising. It appears the Redskins have given Grossman the keys to their offense for the foreseeable future, and his job is to run it efficiently enough to give them a chance to win a couple more games down the stretch. They have the opportunity to play spoiler against Dallas and New York one more time each, and there are young players on offense who need to be evaluated, so Grossman isn't just taking up space in Washington. They're expecting him to do a competent job in between turnovers.

NFC West Stock Watch

November, 15, 2011
11/15/11
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Jason Brown, Rams center. The Rams have paid $7 million per season to Brown since signing him for the 2009 season. They replaced him with Tony Wragge, presumably because they wanted their line to project more toughness and tenacity. The move almost surely foreshadows the end for Brown in St. Louis. Wragge, 32, had started only 15 games, 10 of them in 2008, since making his NFL debut in 2002. The San Francisco 49ers cut him after developing Adam Snyder as a backup for additional positions, including center. Wragge made his first Rams start Sunday and the running game carried on.

2. Frank Gore, 49ers running back. Gore carried only six times for zero yards during the 49ers' otherwise memorable victory over the New York Giants. The knee injury Gore suffered did not appear serious, but it's the latest ailment to threaten his availability this season. Ankle injuries slowed him earlier in the season. Gore's franchise-record streak of 100-yard games ended at five, but the injury concerns account for his placement on this list.

3. Rams' secondary. Losing Al Harris to a season-ending and (at his age) career-threatening knee injury weakened an already ravaged St. Louis secondary. One of the few remaining corners, Justin King, suffered a head injury late in the game, although coach Steve Spagnuolo suggested all symptoms cleared quickly. Bradley Fletcher, Ron Bartell, Jerome Murphy and other corners have already landed on injured reserve for the Rams this season.

RISING

[+] EnlargeRussell Okung
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenSeattle's Russell Okung has stepped up his play in recent weeks.
1. Ray Horton, Cardinals defensive coordinator. The Cardinals have not allowed a passing touchdown in their last three games after allowing nine in their first six. They became the first team to hold Philadelphia below 300 yards this season. Younger players like Sam Acho, O'Brien Schofield and Patrick Peterson are contributing. Calais Campbell has had some huge games. Yes, the Cardinals have played a couple struggling teams in recent weeks. But after allowing 932 yards over the first two games and 445 to Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, Arizona has stopped the defensive bleeding.

2. Russell Okung, Seahawks left tackle. Okung fared well in matchups against DeMarcus Ware and Terrell Suggs over the past two games. He had help at times, but there's no question Okung is gaining in confidence and ability as his previous ankle injuries fade into the more distant past. His play has helped Marshawn Lynch put together 100-yard rushing performances in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. Seattle has allowed only two sacks in its last two games after allowing 14 in its previous three.

3. Alex Smith, 49ers quarterback. Smith doesn't appear higher on this list because his stock has already been rising steadily throughout the season. Even those surprised the 49ers would lean on him so heavily against the Giants had to admit Smith's performance was only mildly (if at all) surprising in the context of this season. Don't be fooled into thinking the 49ers leaned on Smith out of necessity once Gore was injured, either. They threw 11 times in their first 13 plays because that was the offensive plan.

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