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Friday, November 18, 2011
Early trade deadline ill-conceived

By Adam Schefter
ESPN.com

A team's success should be determined by its performance, not a date. Yet a simple date, Oct. 18, helped influence how this entire season would play out.

The Oakland Raiders lost quarterback Jason Campbell to injury two days before the NFL's trade deadline. Due to the timing of the injury and the trade deadline, Oakland was able to deal for former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer.

The Houston Texans lost quarterback Matt Schaub to a season-ending injury and the Kansas City Chiefs likely lost quarterback Matt Cassel for the remainder of the season one month after the NFL's trade deadline. Due to the timing of those injuries and the trade deadline, Houston must lean on Matt Leinart and Kansas City must turn to Tyler Palko.

In a sport designed to be fair, this is an unfair part that is hard to get around. A simple arbitrary date dictated that Oakland could acquire an upgrade but that Houston and Kansas City cannot.

Kyle Orton
Instead of furthering his career elsewhere, Kyle Orton is stuck in Denver for the rest of 2011.

Teams are compromised, fans are shortchanged and TV networks are affected by a trade deadline that easily could be pushed back for the good of the game.

If the trade deadline were Nov. 18 instead of Oct. 18, then Denver would be able to unload quarterback Kyle Orton and his weekly salary of more than $450,000. Houston and Kansas City would be able to add another qualified quarterback to help them with their playoff push. Everyone, including the sport itself, would be better off.

For all the time that the NFL's competition committee spends studying rules to constantly improve the game, there is one rule that could be changed to generate even more interest in the most popular sport in our country. A later deadline would lead to more discussion and more equity among teams, which would benefit fans and TV networks.

No sport markets itself better than football. But when it comes to the trade deadline, football is lagging. It needs to learn from baseball.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell constantly has mentioned doing what is in the best interests of the game. What's in the best interest of the game is moving back a trade deadline that comes way too early and has too much impact.

On to this week's 10 Spot:

1. An NFL truth: Teams that look down-and-out at the midway point seldom are. In four of the past five seasons, at least three teams started 4-4 or worse yet rebounded to make the playoffs. Since 2006, 14 teams have accomplished the feat.

What has transpired in past seasons means watch out for the Cowboys, Raiders, Chargers and Titans -- each of whom was 4-4 at the midway mark -- this season. At least one of these teams, and quite possibly two, will wind up advancing to the postseason if recent seasons are any guide.

Tony Romo
Cowboys QB Tony Romo usually plays his best football in November.

The Cowboys would be the first logical guess. As much as some Cowboys fans have criticized quarterback Tony Romo, their franchise is in a better place because of him, plain and simple. The biggest difference between Dallas and Washington, which play Sunday, is that the Cowboys have a certified quarterback and the Redskins do not. Romo has struggled at times this season, but rarely in his previous season has that happened in November. During his nine-year NFL career, Romo is 17-2 as a starter in November, the best mark among quarterbacks with a minimum 15 starts. And with games left this month at Washington and at home against Miami on Thanksgiving Day, Romo easily could improve his November record to 19-2, at which point the Cowboys would be well positioned to challenge the Giants for the NFC East title.

Oakland is threatening to become the AFC West team that goes from 4-4 to the postseason. It has more size and speed than any team in the AFC West. It can run the football as successfully as it can stop the run. But the Raiders' schedule still includes games at Minnesota, Chicago, at Miami and at Green Bay, which will make its task even more challenging.

San Diego and Tennessee have challenging schedules of their own, but it doesn't change the fact that what has happened in recent seasons will happen again this season. A team or two is going to emerge from .500 to the postseason.

2. Underrated streak: Streaks make up some of the most memorable moments in sports history. Brett Favre started 297 consecutive regular-season games. Johnny Unitas threw at least one touchdown pass in 47 straight games. Cal Ripken played in 2,632 consecutive games. Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 straight games. Orel Hershiser pitched 59 consecutive scoreless innings. John Wooden led UCLA to 88 straight wins. Geno Auriemma led the UConn women to 90 straight wins.

But there is one streak that has not garnered anywhere close to the attention the others have, yet is nearly as impressive in its own way. A player from the University of Miami has scored a touchdown on 149 straight NFL weekends, spanning nine years dating all the way to Week 14 of the 2002 season. Since then, at least one former Hurricane has found the end zone every NFL weekend. It's odd how a school that has conducted its business so loudly and brashly has built up the most impressive streak in the NFL so quietly. Yet it has.

Only now, the streak could be on the verge of garnering even more attention. Three former Hurricanes -- Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson and Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne -- are on their bye this week. Other former Miami standouts -- 49ers running back Frank Gore, Bears returner Devin Hester, Broncos running back Willis McGahee, and Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss -- are banged up.

Greg Olsen
A Greg Olsen TD would be big this week -- for the Panthers and the Miami Hurricanes.

It could be up to former Miami tight ends Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey in Carolina, and Kellen Winslow in Tampa Bay, to extend the league's most impressive and most underpublicized streak.

Miami's streak is listed as questionable for this week and could be downgraded to doubtful by Sunday. But if the Hurricanes can find one more Sunday to get it done, then they will hit a milestone mark that merits attention with some of sports most memorable streaks.

3. So much for Pats' weak D: Critics could be about to run a reverse on the Patriots' defense that had been roundly questioned throughout the first half of the season. In the next six weeks, the quarterbacks the Patriots will face are Kansas City's Tyler Palko, Philadelphia's Michael Vick (weakened with broken ribs, if he's even able to play at all), Indianapolis' Curtis Painter, Washington's Rex Grossman or John Beck, Denver's Tim Tebow and Miami's Matt Moore.

New England's pass defense: fixed. The quarterbacks on deck are more than a little different than Ryan Fitzpatrick, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Romo and Ben Roethlisberger, whom the Patriots already have faced. It also shows how quickly perception in this league can change. Going into Sunday night's game against the Jets, the Patriots were considered the league's most flawed defense; now, once again, it is considered a stout unit. The lineup of quarterbacks New England now will face puts the Patriots in perfect position to secure the AFC's No. 1 seed and ensure that the road to the Super Bowl goes straight through Gillette Stadium.

4. QB carousel keeps spinning: If nothing else, this season has proven how quickly the league changes. During the NFL's nuclear spring -- the equal to the way NBA commissioner David Stern would describe it -- the expected starting quarterbacks in the AFC South were Indianapolis' Peyton Manning, Houston's Matt Schaub, Jacksonville's David Garrard and Tennessee's Kerry Collins. But Manning needed additional neck surgery, Schaub suffered a foot injury that ended his season, Garrard was cut before the season began and Collins retired before the lockout ended. Now the AFC South starting quarterbacks are Painter, Leinart, Blaine Gabbert and Matt Hasselbeck. The NFL really does stand for Not For Long.

5. Running into a wall: On Sept. 18, the Cowboys wiped away the 49ers' 10-point fourth-quarter lead and defeated San Francisco in overtime. It turned out to be San Francisco's only loss so far this season. If the Cowboys hadn't rallied, the 49ers would be even with the undefeated Packers and chasing the 1972 Dolphins. As it is, they're going to win the NFC West title and are overwhelming favorites to become one of the NFC's top two seeds, with a first-round playoff bye.

There are many reasons this San Francisco team has become so dangerous. But maybe the biggest is its front seven and how it has played defense. San Francisco is the only NFL team that still hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown this season. Nor has it allowed a running back to gain 100 yards in a game, a streak that spans 31 games dating to 2009. San Francisco now is eight games behind the record that Baltimore set from 2006 to 2009, when the Ravens went 39 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. Interestingly, the Ravens might have the chance to end San Francisco's streak in the "Harbaugh Brothers Bowl" in Baltimore on Thanksgiving night.

Reggie Bush
Reggie Bush has become a factor and the Dolphins are better for it.
6. Bush back on track: Not only have the Miami Dolphins come to life, but so has running back Reggie Bush. Since the bye week, Bush has averaged 7.1, 4.2, 6.9, 7.1 and 3.4 rushing yards per carry in his past five games -- and in the one game against Washington that he struggled to run, he still scored two touchdowns.

Gradually, Miami has figured out how to use Bush and he has become the weapon the Dolphins thought he would be. Bush still is trying to prove that he can be the every-down back that he fashions himself to be. But even if he can't fully be counted on in that way, there's nothing wrong with him being used the way he has been over the past month. Bush has become a significant factor in Miami's offense and one of the main reasons the Dolphins have played themselves out of the race for Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

7. Transactions worth noting: Ordinarily, practice-squad transactions generate few headlines. But this week produced two notable ones. For starters, the Cardinals signed tight end Steve Skelton to their practice squad; Skelton is the younger brother of Arizona quarterback John Skelton, and the two played together at Fordham. Also this week, the Bengals signed cornerback John Bowie to their practice squad. Even though he's now a Bengal, Bowie always will be connected to the Raiders. Bowie was the player the Raiders picked in the fourth round of the 2007 draft with the selection that they acquired from the New England Patriots for wide receiver Randy Moss. While Moss was piling up monster numbers in New England, Bowie played two games in 2007, spent 2008 on injured reserve and played three games in 2009 before being injured and released. Bowie has returned to Ohio, where he excelled in high school in Columbus, as a member of the Bengals.

8. Twists and returns: Sometimes little injuries can turn into big deals. Last week, Lions kicker Jason Hanson returned from the bye week with stitches in his knee. It prevented him from practicing during the week, which meant Detroit had its punter, Ryan Donahue, fill in. But during practice one day, Donahue pulled his hamstring. With Donahue down, the Lions had to sign free-agent punter Robert Malone, who wound up punting to Devin Hester, who returned one 82 yards for a touchdown and averaged 40.7 yards on his three punt returns.

Nobody would have thought that a little injury to Detroit's kicker would help turn a tidal wave against the Lions. But it's exactly what happened last Sunday. And it helps explain why the Lions cut Malone this week and signed punter Ben Graham to take his place. The Lions are hoping Graham is more careful with the ball Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.

9. Pleasant journeys: The home team won Thursday night, but that was not the trend the past two weeks. Road teams were 20-10 in Weeks 9 and 10. At one point in Week 10, heading into the late afternoon games, road teams were 9-2. One way it can be explained is that there is as much parity as ever. Another is that teams such as the Colts, Chiefs, Rams and Redskins have struggled no matter where they play. But whatever the reason, home teams recently have been road kill.

10. Paterno fallout: Skyler Mornhinweg, the son of Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and a highly recruited high school quarterback, is having a tough time finding a head coach to play for in college. First the younger Mornhinweg backed out of a long-ago commitment to Stanford after Jim Harbaugh left the school for the San Francisco 49ers. Then last summer, Mornhinweg committed to Penn State, only to now be faced with the school firing its coaching icon, Joe Paterno. Now Mornhinweg must figure out if he wants to honor his commitment to Penn State or change to a third college. There are no indications what he will decide, but he is expected to take some time before making a decision. It's another sign of how far the ripples reach.

The Schef's specialties

•  Game of the week: Cincinnati at Baltimore. Two 6-3 teams battle to see which one will join Pittsburgh, on its bye week, in first place in the AFC North.

•  Player of the week: Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez -- The veteran still has some big games left in him, including this one against the Titans.

•  Upset of the week: Chargers over Bears -- San Diego is overdue for a strong showing and Chicago will struggle to match last week's effort against Detroit.

Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.