Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL [Print without images]

Friday, October 30, 2009
Updated: November 1, 1:10 PM ET
10 Spot: Too much Favre passing?

By Adam Schefter
ESPN.com

Imagine Derek Jeter returning to New York … in a Boston Red Sox uniform.

Or John Elway returning to Denver … in an Oakland Raiders uniform.

Or Dan Marino returning to Miami … in a New York Jets uniform.

Or Magic Johnson returning to Los Angeles … in a Boston Celtics uniform.

Or Michael Jordan returning to Chicago … in a Detroit Pistons uniform.

Now, Jordan did return to Chicago in a Washington Wizards uniform, but it didn't have the vitriol that Sunday's game will offer when Brett Favre returns to Green Bay … in a Minnesota Vikings uniform.

It still is hard to comprehend, even today.

Brett Favre. A Viking. And now Favre's current team, the one he declared to be the most talented team he has played on, meets his former team.

Feelings, and security concerns, will run high.

Maybe the closest we have seen, in any sport, is Patrick Roy returning to Montreal … in a Colorado Avalanche uniform. But Montreal-Colorado wasn't even a rivalry, not anything close to what Green Bay and Minnesota is. This is what separates Sunday from other days and games.

No event in sports history ever has had the circumstances, and built-up feelings of admiration and anger, that Sunday's game in Green Bay will.

Favre. In Green Bay. In purple.

All of which leads us into our first point in our weekly 10 Spot.

Brett Favre
The Vikings have leaned on Brett Favre's passing more than expected this season. Favre threw 51 times in a Week 7 loss to Pittsburgh.
Since Brett Favre signed with Minnesota, the Vikings vowed to run the ball -- and run it more than before: They were supposed to keep Favre's pitch count down and Adrian Peterson's carries up. Only it hasn't exactly gone that way. In each of Minnesota's past six games, the Vikings have had more pass plays than run plays. Not that it has hurt them; Minnesota has only one loss -- in Week 7 at the Pittsburgh Steelers -- when Peterson had 18 carries and Favre had 51 passing attempts. But it will be difficult to continue leaning on Favre, particularly in cold-weather games in places such as Green Bay, when the human steamroller plays in Minnesota's backfield. Relying on Favre's passing is neither wise nor prudent for the long-term hopes of this team. As great as Favre has been, the Vikings need to lean more on Peterson and running back Chester Taylor.

Indianapolis often is cited for its talent, but its durability gets overlooked: The Colts have had six players in franchise history start 100 or more straight games. Two of them are quarterback Peyton Manning and wide receiver Reggie Wayne. Manning has started 182 consecutive games, never missing a game with the franchise that drafted him. Wayne has his own impressive streak of 103 straight games. The last time Wayne missed a game was Nov. 25, 2001, when Indianapolis deactivated him. Since then, Wayne has been Mr. Reliable. It's hard to put into words how impressive that is. These guys are not only good, but tough. But now, Wayne is nursing a strained groin he suffered in Week 7 against the St. Louis Rams. He'd like to try to play, but it's questionable whether he can. Of course, don't feel too bad for the Colts. If Wayne can't go, wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez might return from the knee injury he suffered opening day.

Miles Austin
Cowboys receiver Miles Austin has 421 yards receiving in his past two games.
Every year, there are players who emerge from the shadows to become stars: This year, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin is one. In his past two games, Austin has caught 16 passes for 421 yards and four touchdowns. The 421 yards are a Cowboys two-game franchise record and only 14 fewer than Austin had in his first 41 games as a Cowboy. His four touchdowns in the past two games also match the total Austin had in his first 41 games as a Cowboy -- and represent twice as many as Roy Williams has had in his 17 games as a Cowboy. But maybe it shouldn't be such a surprise. Austin attended Garfield High School in New Jersey, which also produced former New York Jets standout wide receiver Wayne Chrebet. Two training camps ago, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo predicted Austin could be a star (I remember because I picked him for my fantasy team last year and he did bubkes -- until now). Last offseason, the Cowboys were thinking of Austin as a potential replacement when they released Terrell Owens. And the Jets brought in Austin for a visit and considered surrendering a second-round pick to Dallas to get him. Now, Austin has made Romo and the Cowboys look smart. What has revived Dallas' offense and potentially saved its season is Austin power.

At one time, their careers had gone up in smoke -- literally: Now, Cedric Benson of the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins' Ricky Williams are two of the NFL's best running backs as the resurrection of former Texas standouts continues. The idea that one of these running backs could rebound to salvage his NFL career was a long shot. The fact that both have been resurrected is nothing short of preposterous. Benson could be handed the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year award right now. In what might be the single most improbable stat of the season, Benson leads all NFL rushers with 164 carries for 720 yards and five touchdowns. He has rushed for 33 more yards than football's best running back, Adrian Peterson. In an equally improbable comeback, Williams is ninth in the AFC and 17th in the NFL in rushing with 70 carries for 396 yards -- an impressive 5.7 yards per carry average -- and five touchdowns of his own. Williams showed speed Sunday against the Saints that he rarely has before. At one time, neither of these players could be counted on. But each has proved he shouldn't be counted out.

Suddenly, defenses have found that the more they crowd the box in passing situations, the more Eli Manning's statistics drop: The Arizona Cardinals did it effectively, and when they did, Manning hurried his throws and misfired more often. With at least six Cardinals in the box on passing situations, Manning threw two of his three interceptions Sunday night, his average yards-per-pass attempt dropped from 13.5 to 4.7 and his QB rating went from 106.3 to 33. Look for the Philadelphia Eagles and their aggressive defense to crowd the box, too. For the Giants to snap a two-game losing streak, Manning must play more like he did in his first five games than he has in his past two against the New Orleans Saints and Arizona. If you take a look at the stats, it is easy to understand why the Giants suddenly are struggling.

When New Orleans wiped out Miami's 21-point lead Sunday, it represented the largest comeback victory in league history for a team attempting to preserve a record of at least 5-0: Then, Saints running back Reggie Bush sent another message to Mercury Morris and the rest of the 1972 Dolphins, suggesting on Sporting News radio that his team could go undefeated. There are still 10 games to go - a whole lot, in other words -- but the Saints' schedule isn't exactly daunting. New Orleans plays host to Atlanta on "Monday Night Football" this week, then welcomes the Carolina Panthers before back-to-back games at St. Louis and at Tampa Bay. The Saints return home for New England on Nov. 30 before finishing the season at Washington, at Atlanta, vs. Dallas, vs. Tampa Bay and at Carolina. Going unbeaten might be expecting too much, but finishing 15-1 or 14-2 -- with an NFC South title and home-field advantage in the playoffs -- is not.

Pierre Thomas
With Pierre Thomas (above), Mike Bell and Reggie Bush, the Saints have a reliable rushing attack.
As well as Drew Brees is playing, and as tough as this Saints' defense has been, maybe the biggest difference in this New Orleans team is its ability to run the football: The Saints have a one-two-three punch with Pierre Thomas being the every-down back, Mike Bell being the goal-line back, and Reggie Bush being the multipurpose weapon. Ideally, the Saints get Thomas and Bell at least 10 carries each. But just look at how this backfield fared when the game was on the line Sunday at Miami. After a first half in which New Orleans had eight carries for 23 yards and one touchdown, the Saints stuck with the ground game and were rewarded with 19 carries for 115 rushing yards and two touchdowns. It proved to be the difference in New Orleans' 46-34 victory over Miami. Now the Saints are hoping their running game can be the difference in an extended playoff run. But first comes a Falcons defense that has been vulnerable to the run game at times this season.

Talk about quirky-schedule, bye-bye-bye notes: It's odd enough for one team to play three straight games against a team coming off a bye, but two are doing that this season. And those two teams play each other Sunday when the Denver Broncos visit the Baltimore Ravens. Denver's last game came against a San Diego team coming off a bye; they play a Ravens team coming off a bye this week and play host to a Steelers team coming off a bye on Nov. 9. Of course, the Broncos will not get any sympathy from the Ravens. Baltimore plays a Denver team coming off a bye, then visits a Bengals squad coming off a bye and a Cleveland Browns team coming off a bye. But the team that has an even more challenging stretch than Denver's or Baltimore's is Atlanta, which is in the midst of a six-game stretch in which it will play four teams coming off a bye.

Last season, Arizona upended Dallas in overtime of the sixth game of the season and everyone wondered what was wrong with the Cowboys: This season, Arizona upset New York in the sixth game of the season and everyone wondered what was wrong with the Giants. One of these seasons, it would be wise to praise the Cardinals, who did win the NFC championship last season. This year, it's not just their pass offense that's doing the job but also their run defense. Arizona is fielding the league's top-ranked run defense. New defensive coordinator Bill Davis has done a superb job, as have defensive tackles Darnell Dockett, Bryan Robinson and Gabe Watson. Arizona is tough to run against and tough to score against, especially early. This season, the Cardinals haven't given up a first-quarter touchdown. With the way the Cardinals schedule sets up, it wouldn't be surprising for Arizona to make another memorable playoff run. But so far, for the second straight year, the Cardinals are 4-2.

Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Kyle Orton need to make room for one other quarterback who has gone unbeaten this season: The quarterback has won the past five games he has played and the past four games he has started. Few are talking about him now, but maybe they should. Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn't posted monster Manning or bulging Brees numbers, but he has been effective. In his past four starts dating to Dec. 14, 2008, when he played for Cincinnati, Fitzpatrick has completed 50 of 90 passes for 516 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and an 83.4 quarterback rating. Two weeks ago, when Buffalo played the Jets, Fitzpatrick replaced the injured Trent Edwards in the second quarter and wound up completing 10 of 25 passes for 116 yards, one touchdown and one interception while leading the Bills to the win. So in the past five games he has played, Fitzpatrick is 5-0. And say this: With Bills coach Dick Jauron having attended Yale and Fitzpatrick having attended Harvard, no team in the league has a smarter coach-quarterback combination.

The Schef's specialties

Game of the week: Minnesota at Green Bay -- Umm, did we even really need to bother spelling it out?

Player of the week: Jaguars QB David Garrard -- The focus is on Tennessee's quarterback situation, but Garrard is likely to shine against a struggling Titans defense.

Upset of the week: Denver over Baltimore -- all season, the Broncos have done everything people said they couldn't.

Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.