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Drew Brees said he isn't worried. New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, back after serving an eight-game suspension, said he isn't worried either. Head coach Sean Payton doesn't have a contract beyond this season because the NFL voided the extension he signed more than a year ago.Big deal? Absolutely. And here's why: In the National Football League, news like that of Payton's unsettled contract doesn't trickle out unless someone wants it out. There has to be a reason. Usually someone is looking for leverage. Someone wants control. Someone wants to send a message. We saw two examples of that just this week. The first was in regard to Payton and his contract. According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, Payton has known since at least March that the NFL wasn't going to approve the contract extension he signed in September 2011. The league didn't like the language in the contract that gave Payton an out if Loomis, for whatever reason, were to leave the Saints.
|Is Sean Payton seeking more money? Power? Freedom? Time will tell.|
It's that time. With half the season as the sample size, here are my midseason awards:Most valuable player: Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, edging out the Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning. The 27-year-old Ryan's statistics aren't quite as dazzling as Manning's -- 17 touchdowns, 6 interceptions and a 103.0 passer rating, slightly behind Manning's 20 touchdowns, 6 interceptions and 108.6 passer rating. But Ryan has the Falcons 8-0. He has led opening drives that have resulted in 27 points, the most in the NFL. And he has led game-winning drives against Carolina, Washington and Oakland. Atlanta coach Mike Smith's mantra is to start fast and finish strong, and Ryan has done just that. Offensive player of the year: The aforementioned Manning. With a new team, a new head coach and a surgically repaired neck, Manning has been sensational, and he's getting stronger as the season has gone on. After throwing three interceptions in Week 2 at Atlanta, Manning has thrown 17 touchdowns and just three interceptions. And he is the Manning of old, the master of the pre-snap adjustment, shredding defenses for an average of 300.5 passing yards per game. The Broncos are in first place in the AFC West.
|The Defensive Player of the Year so far? J.J Watt is a no-brainer.|
Atlanta might hang half a hundred on New Orleans on Sunday. Chicago had the eye-popping final score last week, beating Tennessee 51-20. This week, given the state of the Saints' defense, the Falcons might be the third team this season to hit the 50-point mark (New England beat Buffalo 52-28 in Week 4).Atlanta ranks seventh in scoring (averaging 27.5 points per game) and eighth in total yards (376.6 yards per game). The Falcons are tied for third with a 47.1 third-down conversion percentage, and they're fifth in first downs a game (22.6). They keep the chains moving and score in the red zone. The Saints' defense is performing at a historically bad level, having given up at least 400 yards in every game this season. Although they scored only 19 points in a win over Dallas in Week 9, the Falcons had a 300-yard passer in Ryan, a 100-yard rusher in Michael Turner and two 100-yard receivers in Julio Jones and Roddy White. It was the only game in which Atlanta has been held to fewer than 23 points this season, but it was the third time this season the Falcons eclipsed the 400-yard mark in total offense. New Orleans is going to have a difficult time matching up.
Andy Reid is a former offensive lineman who has always believed that you build a team on both sides of the ball through the draft and from the inside out. It has been his philosophy since becoming Philadelphia's head coach in 1998.So it is ironic that a rash of injuries to the Eagles' offensive line since March very well could lead to Reid's undoing after 14 seasons.
|Andy Reid's Eagles are lacking up front, and Michael Vick is struggling as a result.|
Percy Harvin has been invaluable for the Minnesota Vikings this season, and news that he might not play this weekend against the Detroit Lions because of a sprained ankle is a big blow. By moving Harvin all over the field, the Vikings have made it so that opposing defenses must account for him on every snap.Harvin has rewarded his coaches' faith in him by not dropping a pass this season. No receiver with more than 40 catches has failed to drop a pass besides Harvin, who leads the NFL with 62 catches and ranks fifth with 82 targets, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Contrast that with Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace, Arizona's Early Doucet and Dallas's Dez Bryant, who are the league's leading receivers in drops with six each. .
Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman is the latest player to say he might skip a game to see the birth of his child. Eagles defensive lineman Darryl Tapp missed Philadelphia's game against New Orleans to be with his wife, and earlier this season Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb told me he would skip the Cardinals game that Sunday if his wife went into labor.Some scoff at the notion of a player choosing to skip a game rather than fulfilling his obligation to play. It is ridiculous. Football is a game. It is a profession. But life goes on, and there are just a few things that are, or at least should be, more important. One is the birth of your child. Tillman is having a monster season, with a remarkable seven forced fumbles. He is in the running for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and on Sunday against Houston he has a great opportunity to show that he deserves the award more than the Texans' Watt. Tillman apparently is willing to forego that opportunity to experience the birth of his daughter, if his wife goes into labor over the weekend. He should be applauded for his choice, not ridiculed. The Bears will have another game next weekend.
Being in Chicago reunited with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler certainly has agreed with Brandon Marshall. He is second in the league behind Indianapolis wide receiver Reggie Wayne with 99.6 receiving yards per game. Heading into Week 10, he ranked fourth in the league with 59 receptions, behind Minnesota's Harvin (62), Wayne (61) and New England's Wes Welker (60). He is tied for second with seven touchdowns and tied for fifth with 11 catches of at least 20 yards.
Here is more fodder for the MVP debate, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information: Since ESPN started tracking Total QBR in 2008, each of the quarterbacks who have finished the season as the Total QBR leader has won the MVP award. Manning won in 2008 with a 79.8 and in 2009 with an 82.9; Tom Brady won in 2010 with a 76.8; and Aaron Rodgers won in 2011 with an 86.2.Heading into Week 10, Manning leads the league in QBR with an 85.4. Brady has a 79.2, Ryan a 78.1, Luck a 76.1 and Aaron Rodgers a 73.1. Manning is on pace to finish with the most passing yards (4,808) and the highest completion percentage (69.5) of his career. If he were to win his fifth MVP award, Manning would become the fourth-oldest player in NFL history to capture the honor.
"Congrats to Mr. President @barackobama but did you really have to shatter my RT record? Back to the drawing board."-- T.J. Lang (@TJLang70) November 7, 2012
Lang, a Green Bay Packers guard, has more than 124,000 followers. President Barack Obama has more than 22 million, and his tweet from late Tuesday night of "four more years" was retweeted more than 660,000 times in the 10 hours after he won the election.
"Assuming four more years of presidential prognostications on the NCAA basketball tournament, right?"-- ESPN's Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) Nov. 7, 2012
The commander in chief likes college hoops.
"Looking forward to see how folks will repackage/tweak the 'Redskins Rule' so it still applies in 2016."-- ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) November 7, 2012
The Redskins Rule, and a subsequent amendment, had accurately picked the winner of the presidential election since 1940. The rule is if the Redskins win their final home game before an election, the incumbent wins the electoral vote. This year the Redskins lost their final home game before the election, meaning Mitt Romney should have won the election.
"And that'll do it. Thank you everyone for all your support. Still a long road ahead, but we're now the first state to beat this thing"-- Chris Kluwe (@ChrisWarcraft) November 7, 2012
The Vikings' punter has been an outspoken proponent of same-sex marriage. He tweeted about voters turning down a proposed Minnesota constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. Gay marriage is still illegal in the state.
All games Sunday unless otherwise noted. All times ET.
San Diego (4-4) at Tampa Bay (4-4), 1 p.m. The Chargers have lost their past two road games, against the Browns and Saints, and are 0-2 against the NFC this season. Buccaneers 28, Chargers 24.
Tennessee (3-6) at Miami (4-4), 1 p.m. Are the Dolphins for real? Four of their remaining eight opponents have losing records, starting with the Titans. Can they take advantage? Dolphins 21, Titans 17.
Buffalo (3-5) at New England (5-3), 1 p.m. Tom Brady owns the Bills. He is 19-2 lifetime against them, and New England has won the past 11 meetings at home. Make it 12. Patriots 42, Bills 21.
Oakland (3-5) at Baltimore (6-2), 1 p.m. The Raiders just gave up a season-high 278 rushing yards to Tampa Bay. Ray Rice should get plenty of carries. Ravens 27, Raiders 21.
Denver (5-3) at Carolina (2-6), 1 p.m. You can go home again. John Fox is. He is the winningest coach in Carolina history and will bring a far superior Broncos team -- and far superior quarterback -- into Charlotte. Broncos 34, Panthers 20.
New York Giants (6-3) at Cincinnati (3-5), 1 p.m. The Bengals are on the back end of a Manning doubleheader. The front end did not go well. Giants 34, Bengals 12.
Detroit (4-4) at Minnesota (5-4), 1 p.m. What will the amazing Adrian Peterson, who leads the league in rushing less than a year after blowing out his knee, do this week? Vikings 20, Lions 14.
Atlanta (8-0) at New Orleans (3-5), 1 p.m. The Saints have won 12 straight games in November and have won the last three against Atlanta. But Matt Ryan will pick apart that defense. Falcons 35, Saints 27.
New York Jets (3-5) at Seattle (5-4), 4:05 p.m. A player poll with a small sample size said Rex Ryan is the most overrated coach. So what? It should have said Ryan overrated his team coming into this season. Seahawks 20, Jets 12.
Dallas (3-5) at Philadelphia (3-5), 4:25 p.m. An underachieving team with an apathetic, angry fan base and the hated Cowboys coming to town could get real ugly real fast. Cowboys 20, Eagles 17.
St. Louis (3-5) at San Francisco (6-2), 4:25 p.m. San Francisco has been dominating on defense, holding opponents to a league-best 12.9 points per game. The Rams' offense is 28th in scoring average. Not a good combination. 49ers 24, Rams 14.
Houston (7-1) at Chicago (7-1), 8:20 p.m. Two top offenses. Two top defenses. This is the matchup of the week. Who makes a mistake first? Bears 24, Texans 23.
Kansas City (1-7) at Pittsburgh (5-3), 8:30 p.m. Monday. Is this the week Kansas City takes its first lead during a game this season? Playing at Heinz Field, it is not likely. Steelers 24, Chiefs 9.
Idle: Arizona, Cleveland, Green Bay, Washington.
Last week: 10-3. Season: 79-45.