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Friday, November 12, 2010
Who will follow the great receivers?

By Cam Martin
Special to Page 2

Welcome back to the Pregame Flyover, your weekly CliffsNotes for the National Football League. It's the last week for byes, which means it's also the last week for fantasy league owners to whine about playing below full strength. This week features a lot of interesting divisional matchups, but before we preview the games -- and tell you which games are probably worth watching, which games are of questionable worth, which games are of doubtful worth and which game involves the Bills and Lions -- we ask "Who will be the successors to Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco?"

Wherefore the dearth of entertaining new wideouts?

Once upon a time in the not-so-distant past, wide receivers like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco dominated discussion of the modern NFL. They were talented and brash, self-promoting and entertaining, torch-bearers for the likes of Michael Irvin and Keyshawn Johnson. They were universally adored by men, women and children, the old and the young, the rich and the poor. Irvin and Johnson are now long-retired (though their keen football insights can thankfully still be seen on television), while Moss, Owens and Ochocinco are in the twilights of their comet-like careers. So who is going to step up and fill the void when these three entertainers retire? Who will provide fans with that rare combination of skill, solipsism and showmanship? Who's going to remind everyone that the NFL is a wide receiver league and not some pageant for the short-lived careers of numerous running backs or the long-lived careers of robotic quarterbacks?

In the first installment of a planned series, let's look at some candidates and ask whether they're worthy of carrying on in the great tradition of Irvin, Johnson, Moss, Owens and Ochocinco.

Roddy White

Evidence for: Coming into Week 10, the Falcons' two-time Pro Bowler was second in the league in both receptions and receiving yards, and has been so vital to Atlanta's success this season that Peter King of Sports Illustrated gave him the midseason award for offensive player of the year.

Evidence against: During a recent interview with the NFL Network, White demurred when asked if he was the best wide receiver in the league. "I'm probably, right now, the way I'm playing, probably No. 1 in the league." Probably? That's a weak word of qualification (used twice, no less) and demonstrates the kind of humility more typically associated with punters and offensive linemen (read: people who don't get their own reality shows a la Owens and Ochocinco).

Michael Crabtree

Evidence for: He had a highly publicized holdout from the 49ers following the 2009 draft, temporarily refusing to take less money than Raiders draft pick Darrius Heyward-Bey, who was selected three picks ahead of him. MC Hammer eventually got involved in the negotiations, because that kind of thing happens where wideouts are concerned.

Evidence against: Crabtree had an opportunity to singlehandedly subvert the rookie salary structure, but he caved and signed for less guaranteed money ($17 million) than Heyward-Bey ($23.5 million). Crabtree has only caught five touchdown passes over two seasons in San Francisco, and for some odd reason has not been vociferous about the Niners' subpar quarterbacking. If Terrell Owens were still playing for the 49ers, it's safe to say that Alex Smith, Troy Smith and David Carr would have been thrown under the bus a long time ago.

Braylon Edwards

Evidence for: Following his first Pro Bowl season in 2007, when Edwards' 16 touchdown catches were second in the league to the league-record 23 caught by Moss, Edwards brashly bet Olympic champion Michael Phelps that he would catch 17 in 2008.

Evidence against: Edwards caught one TD pass in 2008, the same year he lead the league with 16 dropped passes, so it's obvious he can't walk the walk. In October 2009, he was charged with misdemeanor assault after punching a friend of LeBron James in the face, an incident that reportedly stemmed from Edwards' jealousy of James. Jealous of a basketball player? That's tolerable if you play one of those lesser sports like baseball or hockey, but NFL wide receivers need to be above such pettiness. Adding to this humiliation, Edwards (and not James) was traded out of Cleveland following the aforementioned altercation. Edwards took these developments so badly that he let himself go and began resembling a homeless person.

Wes Welker

Evidence for: Welker has caught at least 111 passes in each of the past three seasons and has twice led the NFL in receptions.

Evidence against: Just about everything else. For a receptions hog, Welker really doesn't score many touchdowns (just 18 in the past three and a half seasons). He's also something of a simpleton when it comes to self-promotion. He led the NFL with 112 receptions in 2007 and didn't even make the Pro Bowl. Ochocinco wouldn't have stood for that jazz. He'd have parachuted right into Aloha Stadium and demanded the damn ball. No, it's obvious the Patriots' low-key wideout doesn't have it in him to wear the mantle of Ochocinco & Co. And that's fine; there's no shame in that. As Judge Smails said to Danny Noonan, "Well, the world needs ditch-diggers, too."

Probable, questionable, doubtful and out

Just as the NFL puts out an injury report on the likelihood that certain players will suit up each week (probable, questionable, doubtful or out), we put out a viewing report on the likelihood that games will be worth watching. Because let's face it, you can't watch them all.

"Probable" games of the week(75 percent chance these games will be worth watching): New York Jets at Cleveland; Houston at Jacksonville; Tennessee at Miami; New England at Pittsburgh.

SPOTLIGHT PROBABLE: Tennessee at Miami.

We all know what starts with this game: Chad Pennington's campaign to become the first player in NFL history to win three comeback player of the year awards.

What also begins with this game: Randy Moss's campaign to become the first player in NFL history to alienate three fan bases in one season.

A quote to remember: During his first press conference in Tennessee, Moss said, "I'm not coming here to start no trouble." That's a double negative! Moss is in Tennessee to start trouble!

If Moss has the opportunity during his stay in Nashville, he really should: Get a bucket of beer and some nachos and sit on the deck at the San Antonio Taco Company on 21st Avenue.

The biggest question hanging over this game: Can the 4-4 Dolphins finally win at home?

The second-biggest question hanging over this game: Can Pennington throw a spiral more than 15 yards?

The third-biggest question hanging over this game: Will Brandon Marshall pine for the days of catching deep balls from Kyle Orton and Jay Cutler?


"Questionable" games of the week (50 percent chance these games will be worth watching): Minnesota at Chicago; Kansas City at Denver; Seattle at Arizona; St. Louis at San Francisco; Philadelphia at Washington.

SPOTLIGHT QUESTIONABLE: Philadelphia at Washington.

Eagles fans have been: Gleeful about the quarterback situation in Washington.

Redskins fans have been: Kept away from sharp objects.

We all know what starts with this game: The Rex Grossman era in Washington.

Percentage of Redskins fans who just keeled over: 100.

Honestly, can the Redskins win with Donovan McNabb? Washington won its three Super Bowls with Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien at quarterback, and none of them ever donned a Century 21 blazer on a hot August day in Canton, Ohio. Given that, there's no reason to think that McNabb -- another quarterback who won't be going to the Hall of Fame -- can't be equally successful.

McNabb's not going to the Hall of Fame? Not if he loses his job to Rex Grossman.

Matchup to watch: Michael Vick versus the inclination to tuck it away and run with the ball.

Another matchup to watch: McNabb versus the inclination to hyperventilate during the hurry-up offense.


"Doubtful" games of the week (25 percent chance these games will be worth watching): Cincinnati at Indianapolis; Dallas at New York Giants.

SPOTLIGHT DOUBTFUL: Cincinnati at Indianapolis.

The Bengals are better than the Colts: In turnover differential (plus-4 to plus-1) .

The Colts are better than the Bengals: In the passing game.

The two teams are equal: In the running game (3.7 yards per carry each).

With one reception, Chad Ochocinco will catch: Steve Johnson of the Bills for 18th in the NFL.

Ochocinco wore gold cleats and a gold mouthpiece versus Pittsburgh on Monday: But might have caught more balls from Carson Palmer if he sported some Steeler gold.

The Bengals can improve on last week's game if they: Don't fumble eight seconds into the game.

The Bengals have seven sacks this year: Or the same number Derrick Thomas once had in a single game.


"Out" games of the week (100 percent chance these games will be watched by someone, but hopefully not by you): Carolina at Tampa Bay; Detroit at Buffalo.

SPOTLIGHT OUT: Detroit at Buffalo.

This is a matchup between two teams that have: The No. 1 pick within reach.

The presumed No. 1 pick in April's draft is: Quarterback Andrew Luck of Stanford.

The Bills would select him because: Ryan Fitzpatrick is not Jim Kelly.

The Lions would select him because: Matthew Stafford is the Greg Oden of the NFL.

The Lions can improve on last week's performance by: Running the ball on third down when the opposition has no timeouts remaining in the fourth quarter.

Honestly, both these teams have improved considerably: And but for a lame ruling against Calvin Johnson, Jim Schwartz's inexcusable decision to put the ball in Drew Stanton's hands with the game on the line last week and Stafford's inability to stay healthy, the Lions might be sniffing .500.

The 0-8 Bills will be sniffing .500: If they win their last eight games.

Believe it or not, the Bills are: Favored in this game.

Betting on them is a good way to: Prove you have a gambling problem.

Cam Martin is a contributor to Page 2. He previously worked for the Greenwich (Conn.) Time and The (Stamford, Conn.) Advocate, and has written online for CBS Sports and Comcast SportsNet New England. You can contact him at cdavidmartin@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: @CameronDMartin.


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