NFL Nation: Stock Watch 2010

How I See It: NFC South Stock Watch

October, 27, 2010
10/27/10
1:54
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

Drew Brees, quarterback, Saints. Let’s make it clear that Brees isn’t suffering anything close to the meltdown we saw out of Jake Delhomme in Carolina the last two years. And let’s make it clear that injuries and some poor play around him are having an impact on Brees. That said, let’s be real honest and face the fact that Brees isn’t playing nearly at the same level he did in last year’s march to the Super Bowl or even like he did in his 5,000-yard passing season in 2008. Something is amiss with Brees. He’s talented enough that things can click into overdrive at any time, but, to this point in the season, something just hasn’t been right.

Pierre Thomas, running back, Saints. In a pregame report on Fox, it was said that the Saints were unhappy with Thomas’ approach to recovering from the ankle injury that’s had him sidelined. There’s no reason to doubt this report because if you know anything about the behind-the-scenes logistics on this one, you know the word had to come straight from coach Sean Payton or general manager Mickey Loomis. They’re the guys who call the shots in New Orleans and their unhappiness with Thomas doesn’t bode well for his long-term future.

New Orleans' offensive line. This was one of the team’s strengths last year and a lot of people said in the preseason the Saints might have the league’s best offensive line. It hasn’t been anywhere close to that. Brees is getting too much pressure and there hasn’t been much consistency in the running game.

RISING

[+] EnlargeDavid Gettis
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDavid Gettis hauled in two TD catches against the 49ers.
David Gettis, wide receiver, Panthers. Since Carolina won a game, we’re going to make sure we take the rare opportunity to get one of the Panthers in the “rising’’ category. Against San Francisco, he had eight catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns. A sixth-round pick, Gettis is doing more than earlier picks Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards. In an otherwise dismal season, Gettis has been a bright spot.

John Abraham, defensive end, Falcons. A lot of people were ready to write the veteran off after a 2009 season in which he had only 5.5 sacks. But the Falcons thought Abraham would bounce back and it turns out they’re right. He had two sacks on Sunday and that gives him six already this season. With a bye week to rest up, Abraham looks like he’s got a real shot to get back to double-digit sacks.

LeGarrette Blount, running back, Buccaneers. The undrafted rookie had 11 carries for 72 yards and brought life to a running game that hadn’t had much early in the season. Although veteran Cadillac Williams likely will remain the starter, Blount’s performance means he’s going to get a lot more playing time. Every good team needs two quality running backs and the Bucs have found one in Blount.

How I See It: NFC West Stock Watch

October, 27, 2010
10/27/10
1:49
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Max Hall, Cardinals QB. Completing 4 of 16 passes before suffering a concussion knocked down Hall's stock considerably even though this was only his second NFL start. Hall struggled in the wet, windy conditions at Qwest Field. He looked better against New Orleans two weeks earlier and he'll need to look better against Tampa Bay in Week 8. At least he won't have to worry about wrapping his small hands around a cold, wet football.

2. David Carr, 49ers QB. The 49ers have given Alex Smith five-plus seasons to prove himself as a legitimate NFL starting quarterback. They gave Carr six games on the bench and 13 pass attempts against Carolina before deciding he wasn't the answer against Denver in Week 8. Carr is earning more than $3 million per season from the 49ers. One question: Why?

3. Tim Hightower, Cardinals RB. Hightower ran hard and ran effectively against Seattle, but he lost a fumble for the third time this season and the seventh time in his last 20 games. The Cardinals' margin for error is too slim to tolerate regular turnovers. Hightower could lose his starting job as a result.

[+] EnlargeBeanie Wells
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastRunning back Beanie Wells should see increased playing time in Arizona.
RISING

1. Mike Williams, Seahawks WR. Twenty-one receptions over two games would pump up the stock for just about any wide receiver. Williams has become a force on third down. He has nine third-down receptions, eight for first downs, during the Seahawks' recent victories over Arizona and Chicago.

2. Troy Smith, 49ers QB. Smith figured to get playing time at some point once the 49ers knew Alex Smith would miss games. But right away? The 49ers like what Smith offers in the leadership department and they've got nothing to lose at this point. Offensive coordinator Mike Johnson worked with Smith in Baltimore. Will the rapport help on game days?

3. Beanie Wells, Cardinals RB. The Cardinals haven't named Wells their starter for Week 8, but he stands to benefit from lost playing time for Hightower. Wells did not find much running room against the Seahawks, but the Cardinals know he can run the ball. They need to see him make strides in other areas. Wells did make an exceptional catch on a pass out of the backfield.

How I See It: NFC East Stock Watch

October, 27, 2010
10/27/10
1:13
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Wade Phillips, Dallas Cowboys head coach: I didn't have room to mention every player on defense, so their coordinator will have to do. The Cowboys had a 20-7 lead over the New York Giants after quarterback Tony Romo left the game. Phillips basically needed his highly ranked defense to win the game for him. What followed over the next two quarters was an embarrassing performance. Phillips tried to blame it on all those three-and-outs from Jon Kitna and the offense, but we all know better. The Cowboys' defense disappeared at the worst possible moment.

2. Ellis Hobbs, Philadelphia Eagles cornerback: Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt burned Hobbs and rookie safety Nate Allen throughout the second half. Hobbs was still backpedaling when Britt was racing past him for big plays. We'll never know why defensive coordinator Sean McDermott didn't do more to help Hobbs in this game. But hey, Asante Samuel and Quintin Mikell shut down Nate Washington on the other side. The sight of those two players bracketing Washington in the fourth quarter was quite ridiculous based on what was actually going on at the time. I still haven't heard a reasonable explanation from McDermott for his approach to stopping Britt.

3. Chris Gronkowski, Dallas Cowboys fullback: When you blow a blocking assignment that leads to your star quarterback being knocked out for a couple months, you deserve some recognition. Gronkowski was apparently so anxious to catch a pass that he forgot to check for incoming linebackers such as Michael Boley, who had a clean shot at Romo.

[+] EnlargeDeAngelo Hall
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastDeAngelo Hall recorded four interceptions in Sunday's win.
RISING

1. DeAngelo Hall, Washington Redskins cornerback: Earlier in the week, Hall and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett reportedly had a dispute while watching film of a loss against the Colts. Maybe they should try that more often. Hall was brilliant against Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears with four interceptions, one of which he returned 92 yards for a touchdown.

2. Albert Haynesworth, Washington Redskins defensive tackle: Obviously it was his best performance of the season against the Bears. His one-man goal-line stand against Cutler completely changed the game. And Haynesworth also picked up a sack. He was the most dominant defensive player in that game Sunday. Haslett's done a nice job of getting him in situations that remind him of his Titans days.

3. Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith, New York Giants wide receivers: Nicks and Smith overwhelmed the Cowboys' defensive backs. I've been saying this might be the best trio of wide receivers (Mario Manningham's the third) in the league, and they certainly lived up to that type of billing Monday. Smith's acrobatic catch across the middle in the first half set the tone for the rest of the game. And Nicks has become one of the most dangerous receivers in the league after the catch. Now, if they could both stop tipping balls ...

How I See It: AFC West Stock Watch

October, 27, 2010
10/27/10
1:04
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Denver Broncos: Yes, the whole dang team. The entire club has to be embarrassed after Denver was beaten 59-14 at home by the previously 2-4 Oakland Raiders, who were playing their backup quarterback. Losing by 45 at home is a horrible experience for a franchise that can hover for the rest of the season. Denver is 2-5 and you have to wonder if it can bounce back from this type of traumatic defeat.

2. Josh McDaniels, Denver coach: McDaniels deserves his own category this week. While the entire team has to take accountability, McDaniels was in charge of preparing the Broncos for the game. The nature of the loss is ultimately his fault. McDaniels has been a whipping boy on Denver talk radio this week and after this historic defeat, he deserves the heat.

3. Richard Goodman, San Diego wide receiver: Every receiver remembers his first NFL catch. Goodman surely won't forget his first catch, but for all the wrong reasons. The undrafted rookie made a nice grab on a 25-yard pass from Philip Rivers. Goodman looked like he belonged in the NFL. Then he simply left the ball on the grass -- without being downed by a New England defender. The Patriots jumped on the ball. It was a critical turnover in a three-point loss for the Chargers. The first thing that will keep a player off the field is dumb mistakes. Goodman will be lucky if he’s in the Chargers’ game plan anytime soon after that gaffe.

Darren McFadden
Kirby Lee/US PresswireDarren McFadden rushed for 165 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-point rout of the Broncos.
RISING

1. Oakland Raiders: Yes, the whole dang team. The Raiders deserve major props for what they did at Denver. Teams just don’t win by 45 points on the road. This was a tremendous team effort. For a franchise rich in tradition, it was Sunday's game that set the Raiders' all-time single-game scoring record. A lot of the credit goes to coach Tom Cable. He had his team prepared for this game after a poor showing in San Francisco the previous week. Times have been tough for Oakland in recent years, but the Raiders showed great life in this win.

2. Thomas Jones, Kansas City running back: The veteran is showing why the Chiefs made him a priority this offseason. Jones had 125 yards rushing in the Chiefs' win over Jacksonville on Sunday. He had a 70-yard run in the game. Jones and Jamaal Charles are leading the best running game in the NFL. This is a big reason why the Chiefs are 4-2 and have the look of a team that will be in the playoff picture all season long. Jones is giving this offense a toughness it didn’t have in the past.

3. Antwan Barnes, San Diego linebacker: The Chargers have been looking for a new pass-rusher since they determined that the soon-to-be released Shawne Merriman couldn’t be counted on to stay healthy enough to be a factor. Barnes may be that player. He has two sacks Sunday against New England and he showed a great pass-rush burst all game. The former Raven and Eagle was signed during the season because of injuries at linebacker. Barnes showed that he has a chance to be an impact player on passing downs for the Chargers.

How I See It: AFC North Stock Watch

October, 27, 2010
10/27/10
1:02
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Cincinnati Bengals: There's no reason to pinpoint one player, because this is a team-wide failing. Whether it's receivers running the wrong routes, the defense missing tackles, or the offensive linemen not knowing the snap count, the Bengals are making various mistakes during their three-game losing streak. This will be a huge challenge for Bengals coach Marvin Lewis to get this team back on track after a 2-4 start. In a must-win game, the Bengals will host the angry Miami Dolphins (3-3), who suffered a controversial loss last week to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

2. Fabian Washington, Baltimore Ravens cornerback: Washington, who has played decent football this season, had his worst game as a Raven Sunday in an overtime win over the Buffalo Bills. Washington gave up three touchdowns and was benched in the fourth quarter in favor of backup Josh Wilson. Cornerback is one of the league's toughest positions, so every player has days like this. But Washington has to prove last week's game was a fluke if he wants to keep his job.

3. Ravens' pass rush: Washington had a bad game, but the front seven on defense didn't help. It's concerning that Baltimore's pass rush couldn't get through against the worst team in the NFL. Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw the ball 43 times and was only sacked once. Lack of pressure is one reason Fitzpatrick was able to torch Baltimore's secondary for 374 passing yards and four touchdowns. Pass rush has been an issue in Baltimore for the past couple of seasons. I thought this year the Ravens would be more consistent, but that hasn't been the case.

RISING

[+] EnlargeDavid Bowens
AP Photo/Bill HaberDavid Bowens' two interceptions returned for scores were key in Cleveland's upset win over the Saints.
1. David Bowens, Cleveland Browns linebacker: New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees doesn't throw many interceptions, but to throw two pick-sixes to the same player is a real rarity. Bowens, who received little playing time this season, intercepted Brees twice and scored touchdowns of 30 and 64 yards in Cleveland's upset win over New Orleans. Bowens also was awarded the AFC Defensive Player of the Week.

2. Carson Palmer, Bengals quarterback: Despite the Bengals getting off to a slow start, Palmer had the type of game many expect from the $100-million quarterback. He threw for 412 yards and three touchdowns in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Palmer seems more at home in the no-huddle offense, which was used nearly the entire game against Atlanta. Palmer has been part of the problem at different points this season, but that certainly wasn't the case last Sunday. The Bengals' offense will continue to score points if Palmer plays at this level.

3. Ray Lewis, Ravens linebacker: Baltimore gave up a lot of points to Buffalo. But Lewis was all over the field, recording 15 tackles and a sack. The future Hall of Famer also got a crucial strip in overtime that set up Baltimore's game-winning field goal. Lewis and the Ravens are 5-2 but have a lot to correct during their bye week. Baltimore will play Miami on Nov. 7.

How I See It: NFC North Stock Watch

October, 27, 2010
10/27/10
10:06
AM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Qualifications for linebacker in Detroit: The Lions signed free agent Bobby Carpenter during their bye last week. This week, it's possible he'll be in their starting lineup because of Zack Follett's neck injury. Much is left to be decided this week during practice, and Carpenter has more pedigree than the average player you sign off the street in midseason. But the bottom line is he flamed out as a 2006 first-round draft choice for the Dallas Cowboys and made it through only five games this season with the Miami Dolphins before being released. When a player walks in your door one week and has a chance to start the next, you know your depth at the position is far from adequate.

2. Tolerance for interceptions in Minnesota: Last summer, the Vikings signed the quarterback who has thrown more interceptions than any other in NFL history. They were the beneficiaries of a one-year aberration in 2009; Brett Favre threw seven in what was the best season of his career. But what they've gotten this year -- 10 in six games -- is closer to Favre's career-long habit. The big problem for 2010 is not the interceptions, but the fact that Favre has made less big plays to even out the mistakes. Still, no one in the Vikings organization, from coach Brad Childress on down, should be complaining at this point. If you're not going to tolerate the occasional (or even somewhat frequent) head-scratching throw, then Favre wasn't the right quarterback to bring in.

3. Numbers on the Detroit Lions' injury list: The Lions emerge from their bye with the likelihood that two key players who have missed most of the season will return. Quarterback Matthew Stafford (shoulder) and linebacker DeAndre Levy (ankle) are on pace to play Sunday against the Washington Redskins. Hopefully, we'll get a chance to see Stafford play the Lions' final 10 games and observe the progress for ourselves that the team has suggested he made in the offseason. Levy will help settle down a position that has been in disarray, but it's critical for the future of the franchise to get a better handle on where Stafford is and how far he might be able to take it.

RISING

1. Tramon Williams, Green Bay Packers cornerback: How confident are the Packers in Williams' ability to hold down this position? We got two big clues last week. First, the Packers didn't seem compelled to rush back former starter Al Harris from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list for Sunday's game against the Vikings. Second, it was Williams -- and not All-Pro Charles Woodson -- who was matched up most frequently against Vikings receiver Randy Moss. Williams helped hold Moss to three catches for 30 yards, and overall has been the best cover corner on the Packers' roster this season. That's right. From a coverage standpoint, at least, Williams has surpassed Woodson.

[+] EnlargeGreenway
Bruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireChad Greenway has spent more time this season in opposing teams' offensive backfields.
2. Chad Greenway, Minnesota Vikings linebacker: Greenway has always run up high tackle totals, but I think close observers would note he has taken his game to a higher level in 2010. In the past, I've noted that Greenway's tackle totals didn't often include many of the game-changing plays that big-time linebackers make. But this season, Greenway has made more plays behind and close to the line of scrimmage than I've ever seen from him. He already has seven tackles for a loss, one behind his career high for an entire season. Three of them came Sunday night against the Packers, and on a fourth play he stopped Brandon Jackson for a 1-yard gain and forced a fumble. Greenway leads the Vikings with 65 tackles through six games and might be on track for Pro Bowl recognition.

3. Interception totals in Chicago: Quarterback Jay Cutler held himself to three over the Bears' first six games, causing some of us to wonder whether he had put behind his irrational gun-slinging habits. Oops. Four second-half interceptions Sunday against the Washington Redskins, all to cornerback DeAngelo Hall, reaffirmed that Cutler's self-destruction gene is still active and operating. The quarterback isn't always fully responsible for every interception, and FOX analyst Troy Aikman blamed Bears receivers for two of them during the live broadcast. But this was Cutler's third four-interception start in his first 22 games with the Bears. Sacks are one thing. As with Favre, we're willing to tolerate some interceptions if they're balanced with a requisite number of big plays. But Cutler now has 33 interceptions during his short Bears career. It will be impossible to consider him a long-term franchise quarterback at that pace.

How I See It: AFC South Stock Watch

October, 27, 2010
10/27/10
8:58
AM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. The Jaguars’ run defense: Jacksonville got gashed by the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium and in yielding 236 yards, a 5.6-yard average and three rushing touchdowns, the Jaguars dropped six spots in the league ratings to 25th. On a day when only 13 passes were completed against the Jaguars, 28 of their 65 tackles were credited by game-day statisticians to defensive backs.

2. Colts kickoff coverage: Pat McAfee has been good for nearly two kickoff touchbacks a game and consistently puts the ball deep. The team’s substitute punter, Jeremy Kapinos, punted in 20 games for Green Bay in 2008-09 and one for the Jets in 2007, but doesn’t look to be a kickoff guy. Odds are Adam Vinatieri kicks off to Steve Slaton or Jacoby Jones. Vinatieri’s short kickoffs were a reason McAfee was so attractive to the Colts in the 2009 draft. The Colts are currently 19th in the league defending kick returns.

3. Titans’ tight ends: Bo Scaife was played against Philadelphia with a groin injury. But in the team’s last seven-plus quarters, when Kerry Collins has been the quarterback, Tennessee has seen six connections on 13 passes aimed for the tight end for 32 yards, with a long of 12 and a 2-yard Collins-to-Scaife connection in Jacksonville. More balls to receivers is generally a good thing for the Titans, but Jared Cook still not earning chances isn't

RISING

[+] EnlargeKevin Bentley
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertKevin Bentley will start at Brian Cushing's strong side linebacker spot.
1. Damian Williams, Titans receiver: He’s jumped Lavelle Hawkins, who the Titans spent the offseason hyping, and been a reliable target for Collins the last two weeks. I believe he should remain in the top three even if Justin Gage is recovered from a hamstring injury. Williams lost out to Marc Mariani in the return jobs competition. But when the Titans drafted him in the third round they said they thought he could develop into an eventual No. 1 and they’d be wise to let him get some chances.

2. Kevin Bentley, Texans linebacker: Bentley is coming off knee surgery while Xavier Adibi’s had a hamstring injury. Perhaps Bentley is just healed up better, but he’s gotten the nod over Adibi, at least initially, to take over Brian Cushing's strong side linebacker spot. Cushing is moving to middle linebacker for the remainder of the season to replace the injured DeMeco Ryans.

3. Jacob Tamme, Colts tight end: A big opportunity has arrived for Tamme, who’s been used infrequently on offense in his three seasons. He’s now listed as the starter for the Colts in the spot typically occupied by Dallas Clark, who’s finished for the season with a wrist injury. Tamme is fast and has good hands, but we don’t know how polished he is running routes or finding seams. Odds are we find out Monday night.

How I See It: AFC East Stock Watch

October, 27, 2010
10/27/10
8:28
AM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Dolphins red zone offense: They perforated the Steelers' 25-yard line five times and got as far as the 5- and 4-yard lines Sunday. But the Dolphins didn't score a single touchdown in those situations. Dan Carpenter converted a field goal each time instead, and the Dolphins lost by one point. The Dolphins are tied for 18th in red-zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns 50 percent of the time. Only the Cardinals have fewer than the Dolphins' 12 trips inside an opponent's 20-yard line.

2. Patriots' pass protection: Tom Brady was sacked 16 times all last year. In the past three games, opponents have sacked him 10 times. On Sunday, the Chargers recorded four sacks, something that hadn't happened to Brady since December 2006. Not completely sure how much the absences of Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins and fullback Kevin Faulk are playing a role in this trend, but I'm going to guess it's more than a little bit.

[+] EnlargeRyan Fitzpatrick
AP Photo/Gail BurtonRyan Fitzpatrick had a career day against Baltimore, passing for 374 yards and four touchdowns.
3. C.J. Spiller, Bills running back: This year's ninth overall draft choice hasn't been an impact player for weeks, but on Sunday he hurt his team. Spiller fumbled a kickoff on his own 27-yard line with 48 seconds left in the first half. The turnover was crucial. Rather than take an 11-point lead into the locker room (the Bills had the opening possession of the second half), the Ravens scored a touchdown four plays later. On offense, Spiller ran seven times for 33 yards and didn't have a reception for the first time.

RISING

1. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills quarterback: He had the greatest statistical game of his pro career, completing 29 of 43 passes for 374 yards and four touchdowns with a couple interceptions. He posted a 106.2 passer rating. That raised his season rating to 102.0, second in the NFL to only Peyton Manning. Fitzpatrick has 11 touchdown passes (as many as Brady and Tony Romo) in just four starts since taking over for Trent Edwards.

2. Chris Clemons, Dolphins free safety: That position was considered one of the bigger concerns for Miami's defense heading into the season, but Clemons has done well. In that heartbreaking loss to Pittsburgh, he made six tackles, recorded half a sack and forced two fumbles, including the controversial Ben Roethlisberger calamity at the goal line. Clemons went into the game with zero sacks or forced fumbles in his 16-game pro career.

3. Devin McCourty, Patriots cornerback: The 27th pick in April's draft quietly has put together a solid rookie campaign on the treacherous left side and leads the Patriots with four passes defensed. McCourty snagged his first NFL interception last Sunday against the Chargers. Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised McCourty for his consistency not only game-to-game, but also practice-to-practice. McCourty likely will see a lot of Randy Moss this Sunday, when the Vikings visit Gillette Stadium.

How I See It: AFC South Stock Watch

October, 20, 2010
10/20/10
1:20
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Jack Del Rio, Jaguars coach: His team fell flat on its face on national television, appearing to lack playmakers, creativity and fire. And his timeouts at the end to extend the misery and create a situation where the Titans could add a touchdown didn’t make a lot of sense.

2. Pat McAfee, Colts punter: A public intoxication charge from early Tuesday morning is a blow for a guy who’s been an effective punter and kickoff specialist for the Colts since he was drafted in the seventh round in 2008. It’s not a large-scale crime, but it draws the wrong kind of attention to a team that prides itself on being squeaky clean. He’s a free-spirited, fun guy. I suspect he’ll be less so with the public and the press going forward.

3. Veteran Jaguars safeties: Anthony Smith and Gerald Alexander had five starts between them this season. Now they are both gone. Smith was traded to Green Bay Saturday for a conditional seventh-rounder and Alexander was cut for a second time after the Titans game. Sean Considine must be healthy, and we’ll see if Don Carey and/or Courtney Greene prove an upgrade.


RISING

[+] EnlargeOwen Daniels
AP Photo/Dave EinselTight end Owen Daniels had some key catches in the Texans' win over the Chiefs last Sunday.
1. Owen Daniels, Texans tight end: Six games into his return from his third ACL operation, he looks to be running better. He’s clearly hungry to prove he’s all the way back and worthy of a new contract. He had five catches for 79 yards in the win over the Chiefs, including key 24- and 27-yard catch-and-runs that helped set up one of the fourth-quarter touchdowns.

2. Alterraun Verner, Titans cornerback: The rookie is playing very solidly as the Titans' second starter. In fact, he’s outplaying the team’s No. 1 cornerback, Cortland Finnegan. Jason McCourty edged Verner out for the starting job in the preseason, but once McCourty recovers from a fractured forearm, Jeff Fisher’s going to have to find a way to keep Verner in the lineup.

3. Pierre Garcon, Colts receiver: Drops and some route problems or miscommunications caused some early concerns, as did a hamstring injury that cost him some games. But he was an X factor in Indianapolis’ win at Washington, with the 57-yard touchdown early and the one-handed, leaping grab -- a catch-of-the-year candidate for sure. The potential for those sort of big plays is why they like him.

How I See It: NFC South Stock Watch

October, 20, 2010
10/20/10
1:12
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

Atlanta’s defense. It really did have a new and much improved look early in the season. But the 31 points allowed in Philadelphia were not a good sign. You have to wonder if it’s the start of a downward spiral. After all, the Falcons probably will be without the two players they brought in to give the defense a new look on Sunday against Cincinnati. They already have said rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon will sit out with a knee injury and it appears likely cornerback Dunta Robinson could miss some time because of a concussion.

[+] EnlargeCadillac Williams
Kim Klement/US PresswireCadillac Williams has struggled this season, gaining just 2.5 yards per carry.
Cadillac Williams, running back, Buccaneers. This guy is a fan favorite because he’s shown such courage in coming back from two major knee injuries. That also has made him a favorite of the coaches. But you don’t stay as anybody’s favorite when you’re averaging just 2.5 yards a carry and haven’t scored a touchdown. Sure, you can put some of the blame on the offensive line, but Williams hasn’t hit holes when they’ve been there. The Bucs don’t have many other options, but it looks like they’re going to take looks at two guys they picked up off the street at the start of the season -- LeGarrette Blount and Kregg Lumpkin.

Sam Baker, left tackle, Falcons. He’s supposed to be the franchise left tackle and that means he’s supposed to protect the blind side of franchise quarterback Matt Ryan. Well, it’s not working quite like it was planned. Ryan got sacked three times against Philadelphia and the number would have been a lot higher if he didn’t do such a good job of throwing the ball away when he sensed pressure. It seemed like Ryan ended up on the ground just about every time he dropped back to pass. It’s hard to change left tackles midseason and the Falcons don’t have any real options. But it’s starting to look like left tackle is going to be high on their list of needs for the 2011 draft.

RISING

Chris Ivory, running back, Saints. If you count up all the backfield injuries the Saints have had dating back to the preseason, Ivory would be the fifth- or sixth-string running back. But the undrafted rookie played like a first-team feature back Sunday as he ran for 158 yards against Tampa Bay. That’s going to earn him some more playing time and he’s secured a spot in the rotation even after Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush return from injuries.

Matt Moore, quarterback, Carolina. He’s been named the starter again after losing his job to rookie Jimmy Clausen. With the 49ers coming to town, the Panthers actually have a chance and they need to give Moore a chance. They need to approach this game the way they should have approached the start of the season. They need to rely on their defense and their running game and let Moore be a game manager. He’s capable of doing that. The Panthers, for reasons I can’t understand, asked Moore to go out and win the first couple of games with his arm and that was way too much to ask. Give this guy some support and he just might be adequate.

New Orleans’ defense. The Saints struggled through their first five games, but showed some promise against Tampa Bay. Yeah, make the obligatory joke about Tampa Bay’s offense, but the fact is, it’s not bad. At least the Bucs have a legitimate passing game. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has faced some challenges because of injuries this season, but it looks like he’s getting his group together and there might be more help on the way in the coming weeks. Safety Darren Sharper and linebacker Clint Ingram are scheduled to return to practice after spending the first six weeks of the season on the physically unable to perform list with injuries.

How I See It: AFC West Stock Watch

October, 20, 2010
10/20/10
1:10
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Ryan Harris, Denver Broncos right tackle: It looks like Harris is losing his starting job. Second-round pick Zane Beadles took over last week and probably will play against the Raiders on Sunday. It is a surprise because Harris is a solid young player who has a future in the league. He suffered a foot injury last October and was essentially out for the year. He suffered an ankle injury in the fourth preseason game this year and he was terrible at Baltimore last week when he finally played. He was rusty. Denver moved to a power-blocking scheme from its long-time zone-blocking look this year, so Beadles may be a better fit. But the light, athletic Harris is too talented to stay on the bench.

2. Jason Campbell, Oakland Raiders quarterback: That was fast. Campbell was on the rise last week after he helped Oakland beat San Diego, ending a 13-game losing streak to the Chargers. Campbell spelled Bruce Gradkowski in the game and was 13-of-18 passing for 159 yards. The prevailing thought was that Campbell learned from his poor start to the season. That is no longer the case after Campbell was horrible in a loss to the previously winless 49ers. Campbell had a passer rating of 10.7. If Gradkowski’s injured shoulder isn’t ready, No. 3 quarterback Kyle Boller may start Sunday at Denver. Campbell has a sore knee, but he also doesn’t have the confidence of the organization. It’s early, but it sure seems like trading for Campbell in the offseason wasn’t the solution Oakland thought it would be.

[+] EnlargeMike Vrabel
Brett Davis/US PresswireThe Chiefs celebrated linebacker Mike Vrabel's 10th career receiving touchdown on Sunday.
3. San Diego Chargers' offensive line: In Marcus McNeill’s first game at left tackle since ending his holdout, this unit was a mess. San Diego allowed seven sacks after being very strong in the first five games. It was clear the entire line was affected by the move. McNeill is a good player and the unit will jell, but the change from Brandyn Dombrowski to McNeill hurt the Chargers as they fell to 2-4 with a loss at St. Louis.

RISING

1. Mike Vrabel, Kansas City Chiefs offensive machine: Somebody needs to learn to stop Mike Vrabel. Here’s a hint, NFL: If the 35-year-old linebacker is on the field when the Chiefs’ offense is near the goal line, you might want to cover him. Vrabel caught his 10th career touchdown pass Sunday at Houston. It is an NFL record by a defensive player.

2. Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos red zone weapon: This is what Tebow did at Florida: He took the ball and found the end zone. Sunday, seeing the field for the second time this season, Tebow gave Denver a much-needed spark with a 5-yard touchdown run against the Jets. He had six carries for 23 yards. Denver coach Josh McDaniels has said that for Tebow to be truly effective as a role player, he will need to be a passing threat as well as a running threat. Don’t expect to see Tebow in every game. But he is a weapon who proved he can help his team.

3. Kansas City Chiefs’ passing game: Quarterback Matt Cassel threw three touchdown passes and receiver Dwayne Bowe caught two of them. Bowe had six catches for 108 yards against Houston. Both players have been under fire in Kansas City. Sunday, they showed they can be effective.

How I See It: NFC West Stock Watch

October, 20, 2010
10/20/10
1:09
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Preseason predictions. Those would include mine, not that anyone could have known Marshawn Lynch would revitalize Seattle's offense while the Seahawks allowed zero sacks during a road victory against the Chicago Bears. I mean, really, could anyone have seen that coming back in August? Or even two weeks ago? This was the year San Francisco appeared in position to hold off Arizona for the top spot in the NFC West, with Seattle and St. Louis trailing. Six weeks into the season, we could rank the teams in reverse order of expected finish without stretching too far. But it's a week-to-week existence in the NFC West and throughout much of the league. Fortunes change quickly.

2. Seahawks' special teams. Golden Tate muffed a Bears punt at the Seattle 7-yard line and was fortunate to recover. A penalty against the Bears wiped out a kickoff return for a touchdown. An off-target punt allowed the Bears' Devin Hester to return the ball 89 yards for a touchdown in the final minutes, forcing Seattle to sweat out a victory unnecessarily. Punter Jon Ryan was excellent to that point in the game and Seattle's special teams remain strong overall, but a couple high-profile miscues can ruin everything.

3. Arizona Cardinals. It's not their fault the rest of the NFC West went 3-0 during Arizona's bye week. It's not their fault Buffalo traded Lynch to the Seahawks shortly before the Cardinals' visit to Qwest Field. It's not their fault the Rams somehow rebounded from a 44-6 defeat in Detroit to beat a San Diego team that had blown out Arizona two weeks earlier. The reality, though, is that the Cardinals unexpectedly lost sole possession of first place in the division.

[+] EnlargeMike Williams
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhIn Seattle's win over Chicago, Mike Williams went over the 100-yard receiving mark for the first time this season.
RISING

1. Mike Williams, Seahawks WR. Ten catches for 123 yards will raise the stock for just about anyone. Williams' stock has already risen significantly since his surprise signing in Seattle during the offseason. It took a sharp turn upward Sunday. Williams made key catches on third down. He made a difficult catch near the ground in tight quarters along the goal line. Through his efforts, the Seahawks didn't have to hear about Deion Branch catching nine passes for 98 yards in his first game after Seattle traded Branch to New England.

2. Ken Flajole, Rams defensive coordinator. The Rams' defense has outperformed outside expectations. Seven sacks against Philip Rivers helped the Rams hold the Chargers well below their season averages for total yards and passing yards in particular. San Diego managed only 287 yards, 102 lower than its previous worst this season. The Rams ended the Chargers' 13-game streak with at least 300 yards. Flajole doesn't get as much credit as he otherwise might because the Rams have a defense-minded head coach, but more will come his way if St. Louis keeps this up on defense.

3. Frank Gore, 49ers RB. Gore's stock generally doesn't change much, but his 64-yard run and 149-yard rushing performance against Oakland proved critical in the 49ers' first victory of the season. Gore was coming off a two-fumble performance during a 27-24 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles. He also stepped out of bounds before making a reception during that game. Gore appeared primed for a rebound game, and he got one.

How I See It: AFC North Stock Watch

October, 20, 2010
10/20/10
1:02
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Eric Wright, Cleveland Browns cornerback: Wright entered the season as Cleveland's best cover cornerback. But through six games it is not looking that way, as Wright allowed two more touchdown passes, to Mike Wallace and Hines Ward, in Sunday's loss to the Steelers. In two games against division rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh, Wright has allowed five passing touchdowns. That's not going to win many games for Cleveland.

2. Baltimore Ravens' late-game execution: Whether it was conservative play calling or not making enough plays, Baltimore floundered late on both sides of the football Sunday in a loss to the New England Patriots. The Ravens blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter to lose in overtime 23-20. After playing well for three quarters, the Ravens stopped taking chances offensively, gave up possessions and couldn't make a big play on defense to stop New England's momentum. Games like this happen in the course of a 16-game season, and the Ravens have to take this as a learning experience for the next time they have a lead late against a quality opponent.

3. Browns' pass rush: Cleveland defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is trying to bring the heat, but lately the Browns' pass rush has been lukewarm. Cleveland's pressure packages are getting to the quarterback either too late or not at all, which has resulted in big plays for opponents. After being sacked eight times in their previous meeting, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wasn't sacked in his first game back from a four-game suspension. He was hit several times during big plays. But if Cleveland had been able to get there sooner, those plays could have been prevented.

RISING

[+] EnlargeLawrence Thomas
AP Photo/Tom E. PuskarLawrence Timmons had 11 tackles and two sacks against the Browns.
1. Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker: Timmons was our High Energy Player of the Week in the AFC North, but he has really played great football all season. Timmons leads the Steelers with 42 tackles and is vastly improved in pass coverage. It took a while for Timmons, who was drafted to play outside linebacker, to learn the responsibilities of an inside linebacker. But he's coming into his own and having a breakout year. Against Cleveland, Timmons had 11 tackles, two sacks and an interception.

2. Haloti Ngata, Ravens defensive lineman: If I had to pick an MVP for Baltimore through the first six games it would be Ngata. The Pro Bowl defensive lineman has been dominant and unblockable in several games. Against New England, Ngata had seven tackles and two sacks. He is very hard to move and athletic enough to finish plays and get to the quarterback. Health permitting, Ngata is a lock for his second straight Pro Bowl appearance.

3. Colt McCoy, Browns quarterback: McCoy exceeded everyone's expectations and now many in Cleveland are calling for him to be the permanent starting quarterback. After throwing for 281 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions against Pittsburgh, McCoy is expected to start this week against the New Orleans Saints with veterans Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace nursing ankle injuries. The rookie put up the highest yardage total of any Browns quarterback this season. Sunday's performance offered hope that Cleveland might have its quarterback of the future.

How I See It: NFC East Stock Watch

October, 20, 2010
10/20/10
1:01
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Joe DeCamillis, special-teams coach, Dallas Cowboys: DeCamillis convinced head coach Wade Phillips that he needed Jesse Holley on special teams, and then the former reality TV show star flopped at a crucial moment. With Brett Favre and the Vikings' offense struggling throughout much of the first half, Percy Harvin opened the second half with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. DeCamillis had vowed that something like that wouldn't happen again following a 73-yard return by the Titans the previous Sunday. Then a nice return by Dez Bryant was wiped out in the second half because of a holding penalty on Alan Ball. The special teams for the Cowboys have been awful this season.

2. Mike Jenkins, cornerback, Dallas Cowboys: He's supposed to be an elite player in the league, but he's being exposed on a weekly basis. He grabs a fistful of jersey when there's no need. And it looks like opposing teams are starting to target him. We were probably too quick to move Jenkins past veteran Terence Newman in the pecking order.

3. Graham Gano, kicker, Washington Redskins: I don't want to let the Skins' secondary off the hook, but that miss from 48 yards at the end of the first half was a huge momentum killer. If you're down a touchdown at the half instead of 10 points, there's a totally different mindset. Gano's had his moments this season, but that wasn't a good one.

RISING

[+] EnlargeKevin Kolb
Barbara Johnston/US PresswireKevin Kolb had a quarterback rating of 133.6 against the Falcons.
1. Kevin Kolb, quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles: He was 23-of-29 for over 300 yards and three touchdowns. Kolb has completed 73.3 percent of his passes over the past two games. He's running Andy Reid's West Coast offense to perfection, and that's why the coach will have an interesting decision to make once Michael Vick's healthy. For now, though, Kolb is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league.

2. Jeremy Maclin, wide receiver, Philadelphia Eagles: When DeSean Jackson had to leave the game following that devastating hit, Maclin took over the game. He and Kolb have had an excellent rapport the past two games. I could see Maclin going off against the Titans on Sunday.

3. Osi Umenyiora, defensive end, New York Giants: I'm not sure how Osi Umenyiora's remarkable season is sort of flying under the radar. He already has eight sacks and a stunning seven forced fumbles. New defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has put Umenyiora in position to succeed, and he's obviously responded. And when Mathias Kiwanuka went down with a neck injury, Umenyiora lifted his game even more. Umenyiora and Tuck are a lethal combination right now.

How I See It: AFC East Stock Watch

October, 20, 2010
10/20/10
11:25
AM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

[+] EnlargeBrandon Meriweather
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonBrandon Meriweather's helmet-to-helmet hit on Todd Heap earned him a $50,000 fine.
1. Brandon Meriweather, Patriots safety: The NFL fined him $50,000 (10 percent of his base salary) for his helmet-to-helmet launch into defenseless Ravens tight end Todd Heap in the second quarter. Patriots coach Bill Belichick pulled Meriweather from the game, and the Pro Bowler might have watched the rest of the game from the sideline had safety Jarrad Page not suffered a calf injury.

2. Mark Sanchez, Jets quarterback: This might be a stretch because Sanchez did recover for a fourth-quarter comeback on the road. But Sanchez did have his shakiest moments of the past five weeks. He threw his first two interceptions of the year.

3. Vontae Davis, Dolphins cornerback: He has been getting rightful attention as one of the NFL's top emerging cornerbacks, but he got charred by Packers receiver Greg Jennings on an 86-yard touchdown strike in the first quarter. The game-changing play came one snap after Chad Henne threw an interception to prevent the Dolphins from building on their 10-0 jump.

RISING

1. Cameron Wake, Dolphins outside linebacker: He erupted for his first three-sack NFL game, piling up losses of 24 yards. He hit Aaron Rodgers six times. Wake pulled down Rodgers to thwart a third-down play in overtime, forcing the Packers to punt. The Dolphins kicked a field goal on their next series.

2. Jermaine Cunningham, Patriots outside linebacker: The rookie recorded a strip sack -- his first sack and first forced fumble -- and another tackle for a loss in Sunday's victory over the Ravens.

3. Dwight Lowery, Jets cornerback: For the second straight week, the reserve defensive back iced the game by pouncing on the ball. Lowery returned a Brett Favre interception for a touchdown in Week 5 and jumped on a loose ball in the waning moments to end the Broncos' chances.

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