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Thursday, October 20, 2011
Updated: October 23, 8:04 AM ET
Teams are finding it's time for Plan B

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

In every city, the backup quarterback is often the most popular player.

Fans get frustrated when starting quarterbacks make mistakes. An interception or a series of three-and-outs can inspire fans to chant for the backup. The Mile High City of Denver is a perfect example. Kyle Orton and the Broncos lost to the San Diego Chargers, but many felt a personal victory in seeing Tim Tebow replace Orton as the starting quarterback.

Welcome to Replacement Quarterback Weekend. Depending on how injuries play out, as many as six new quarterbacks could take the field. Tebow starts for the Broncos in Miami.

A pectoral injury to Tarvaris Jackson is giving Charlie Whitehurst the chance to start for Seattle in Cleveland. John Beck takes over for Rex Grossman after Grossman's four-interception game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Redskins visit the Carolina Panthers.

Christian Ponder replaces a struggling Donovan McNabb in the Vikings' home game against the Green Bay Packers. A.J. Feeley will start for the Rams against Dallas in place of Sam Bradford, who won't play because of a high ankle sprain.

Carson Palmer is cramming to eventually take over for Jason Campbell in Oakland. Kyle Boller is expected to start for the Raiders on Sunday against Kansas City.

Replacements haven't been successful so far in 2011. Their records combined are 0-11. Blaine Gabbert is 0-4 since the Jaguars benched Luke McCown after a 1-1 start. Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter are a combined 0-6 filling in for Peyton Manning. Matt Moore lost his first start for the Dolphins after Chad Henne's season ended.

In a quarterback-driven league, how these quarterbacks do will determine the fate of several franchises.

Here are the 10 top trends and stories for Week 7:

Carson Palmer
Carson Palmer's effectiveness tailed off toward the end of his stint in Cincinnati. How will he fare in Oakland?

1. Commitment to Carson: Raiders coach Hue Jackson wasted no time acquiring Palmer, but he may not rush him into service. Palmer and Kyle Boller split first-team snaps this week, an indication that Boller would start against Kansas City. Even if Boller starts, Palmer has to be in uniform because Terrelle Pryor isn't ready to be the backup. The Raiders are in the middle of a one-month homestand, and Palmer arrives at a convenient time. After the Chiefs game, he'll have a bye week to get in full shape and prepare for what should be a winnable game against the Denver Broncos on Nov. 6. In his first four seasons as a Bengals starter, Palmer became an elite quarterback, completing 64.1 percent of his throws with a 7.32 yards per attempt average. He averaged 26 touchdown passes and had two 4,000-yard-plus seasons. After a knee reconstruction and a nerve issue with his right elbow, Palmer wasn't the same over the past two years, dropping to a 61.2 percent thrower with 6.7 yards per attempt and 16.5 interceptions a season over his final two years as a Bengal. Which Palmer did the Raiders acquire? We'll start to find out Sunday.

2. Tebow Time: How crazy will it be Sunday in Sun Life Stadium? The Dolphins are honoring former University of Florida stars and Tebow, the best of all the Gators, is starting for the visiting Broncos. Tony Sparano lost home-field advantage in Miami over the past two seasons with a 1-9 home record, but now the marketing department is giving it away. Dolphins cheerleaders might as well wear Tebow jerseys. Broncos coach John Fox will have to change the offense to accommodate Tebow. The Broncos traded away their best receiver, Brandon Lloyd, so you figure they will go to a running attack that features more shotgun and more rollouts to suit Tebow's style of throwing on the run. He's not a pocket passer. He has to prove whether he can be an accurate passer. Coming out of training camp, the front office and coaching staff believed that Tebow was the third-best quarterback on the roster. But there are plenty of weird sidebars in this game. Both franchises are bad enough that a victory could hurt their chances of getting the first pick in the draft and the chance to select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. In the meantime, stories are circulating that Sparano's job could be in jeopardy if the 0-5 Dolphins lose to the Broncos. The winner is the Dolphins' marketing department. The team expects a sellout.

3. Ponder this: The Vikings are fighting political opponents of a new stadium and the clock is running out. If the Vikings don't get some assurance about new digs, they could leave for another city. That prompted an interesting decision for coach Leslie Frazier and Vikings management. They acquired Donovan McNabb to get the team off to a good start, but at 1-5, they threw him aside for first-round pick Christian Ponder this week. Can Ponder save the franchise, starting with a victory over Aaron Rodgers and the rival Packers? Frazier is rolling the dice going with Ponder. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Packers have been burned for 57.8 percent completions and 7.7 yards an attempt when they rush extra defenders. But the high-risk, high-reward strategy has paid off. They are second in the league with 11 sacks on blitzing plays and are tied with the Ravens for the blitz lead in interceptions with four. Expect plenty of blitzes.

4. Beck to the rescue: John Beck gets the start against Cam Newton and the Panthers on Sunday, and his mission is to avoid interceptions. Rex Grossman lost his starting job after throwing nine picks in his last four games. The Redskins may be off to a 3-2 start, but their margin for error is as thin as a razor. Last week, they not only lost to the Eagles, they lost the left side of their offensive line. Tackle Trent Williams suffered a high-ankle sprain and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger blew out two knee ligaments. Those injuries could seriously jeopardize a fragile running game. Mike Shanahan's tendency is to run left. The Redskins rank second in the league with 34 running plays around left end, and they have a respectable 4.47-yard average. Beck adds some extra mobility at the position, but he's also looking for his first win as a starter. He hasn't started a game since 2007.

5. Strangest reunion of Week 7: Mike Holmgren wanted to stay as Seattle's general manager but had to leave the Seahawks for the job of running the Cleveland Browns. The Browns host the Pete Carroll-led Seahawks in a test to see which decision-maker -- Carroll or Holmgren -- has advanced his franchise the fastest. If that isn't strange enough, Jim Mora Jr., kicked aside after one season as the Seahawks' coach for Carroll, is doing network analysis for the game. Both teams are 2-3 and neither has shown anything that would bring the word playoffs into the conversation. Charlie Whitehurst is expected to start for the Seahawks. Colt McCoy, whom the Seahawks passed on twice in 2010, starts for the Browns. McCoy doesn't have the playmakers to improve his stock as a quarterback. His completion percentage has dropped to 55.8 percent and he's not getting the ball downfield. He's averaging 5.5 yards an attempt. Expect a low-scoring game.

Matt Schaub
Matt Schaub and the Texans have a critical AFC South game against the Titans, but is anyone paying attention?

6. The ignored division: Without Peyton Manning, there isn't much buzz in the AFC South. But the best game nobody is talking about is the Houston Texans' visit to the Tennessee Titans. At stake is the AFC South lead, but no one seems to care outside of Nashville or Houston. The pressure is on the Texans to win or they would fall 1½ games behind the Titans, whose offense has been revived by the play of 35-year-old Matt Hasselbeck. The Texans are at an early crossroads in their season. Gary Kubiak is 3-7 all time against the Titans, but those games were when Jeff Fisher was coaching the Titans. The Texans have lost in seven of their past nine trips to Nashville. Andre Johnson is expected to miss a third consecutive game because of a hamstring injury, and Texans quarterback Matt Schaub remains an easy target for defenders. He's been hit or under duress on 48 pass attempts this season, fifth most in the league, according to ESPN Stats and Information. The Titans could take temporary control of the AFC South with a victory, but will anyone notice?

7. Not-so-friendly reunion: LaDainian Tomlinson had a Hall of Fame career with San Diego, but the Chargers let him go in 2010 and he has tried to re-establish his career with the New York Jets. The Chargers grew tired of mental mistakes by cornerback Antonio Cromartie and traded him to the Jets. Now, the Chargers visit a Jets team that has everything on the line. The Jets are floundering. They can't run the ball. Teams are running the ball against them. Mark Sanchez appears to have regressed as a quarterback. The Chargers are 4-1 and haven't played their best football. The Chargers remember how the Jets came to San Diego in 2009 and knocked them out of the playoffs. The Chargers also know oft-criticized Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who once coached quarterbacks in San Diego

.

Michael Turner
Detroit's rushing attack is troubled. Atlanta, on the other hand, is in great shape with Michael Turner.

8. What's the Best option at running back? Postgame handshakes aside, Lions coach Jim Schwartz is facing an issue. It's been hard to mount a consistent running attack with quick back Jahvid Best, and his status against the Atlanta Falcons is in question because of his second concussion of the season. The Lions traded for Ronnie Brown, but the trade was voided because Jerome Harrison, the Lions back included in the trade, failed a physical because of a brain tumor. If Schwartz doesn't have Brown or Best, his offense may be too one-dimension against Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons. The Lions need the type of running Michael Turner provides every week for Atlanta. Turner is a big back who has big production. He has 499 yards and a 4.5-yard average this year as a 247-pounder who hits the middle of the defense hard. In 2008, he rushed for 220 yards against the Lions.

9. The London Buccaneers: The Glazers, struggling to sell tickets to Bucs home games, were willing to help the NFL promote its product by agreeing to play the Chicago Bears in London on Sunday. This isn't foreign land to the Glazers. They own the Manchester United soccer team. The NFL is thinking adding a second game in London next season, and don't be surprised if the Bucs try to sell their brand in London on an annual basis. At a recent owners meeting, commissioner Roger Goodell talked about having a team be a regular in London, and the Bucs, unless they start selling out home games, would be the logical franchise. The Bucs would never move from Tampa Bay, but they don't seem to mind playing a home game away from home.

10. Bottom-feeders: The winless Indianapolis Colts will have a tough time Sunday night when they visit the New Orleans Saints. Usually, Manning carves up the Saints' defense in these games, but Painter doesn't have the throwing stroke to keep up with Drew Brees. On Monday night, Jacksonville's Gabbert will feel the fury of a Baltimore Ravens blitzing defense. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Gabbert has been awful when facing extra rushers. He's completed only 18 of 42 passes against blitzes and has been sacked eight times. The winless Rams upgraded their receiving corps with the trade for Brandon Lloyd, but that might not help their beat-up quarterback. Sam Bradford has been ruled out this week with a high ankle sprain, leaving A.J. Feeley in charge of the offense. Finally, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt will try to turn around a struggling passing offense Sunday, but he will have to do it against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ouch.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.