Packers' perfection watch is on
Defending champs' remaining schedule is hardly daunting; can they run the table?
Every season there is a team, if not two or three, that not just survives but thrives. This season it is the Green Bay Packers.
They now are the last of the unbeatens, the team the 1972 Miami Dolphins will be monitoring.
As decorated as Green Bay's history is, this is, amazingly, the first season in the Super Bowl era that the Packers have been the league's final unbeaten team. They are so good that it is fair to start their unbeaten watch.
Now the Packers get their run at the '72 Dolphins, the '07 Patriots and history. As challenging as it will be, the schedule is hardly overbearing.
• Oct. 23, at Minnesota: A matchup against a quarterback making his first NFL start does not look like the game that could result in the Packers' first loss.
• Nov. 6, at San Diego: Perhaps the toughest team remaining on Green Bay's schedule, the Chargers will be revved to play a Packers team that will be coming off its bye.
• Nov. 14, Minnesota: If the Vikings can't beat the Packers in Minnesota, it will be even tougher to do in Green Bay.
• Nov. 20, Tampa Bay: It's hard to tell whether Green Bay will get the good or bad Bucs team, but neither is as good as the Packers.
• Nov. 24, at Detroit: One of the best Thanksgiving Day matchups in recent years will be a football feast.
• Dec. 4, at N.Y. Giants: In December 1998, on the Giants' home field, New York and quarterback Kent Graham ended the Broncos' unbeaten season.
• Dec. 18, at Kansas City: The Chiefs lack the firepower to keep up with the Packers.
• Dec. 25, Chicago: Green Bay remaining unbeaten would be a great Christmas Day present for the NFL and its TV ratings.
• Jan. 1, Detroit: Should Green Bay still be unbeaten, it could mean significant playing time for Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn, who is in the last year of his contract and will be one of the most sought-after quarterbacks during the offseason.
Whether Green Bay can achieve perfection is one question. But the fact that the question is being raised in late October proves how formidable the Packers are.
Right now, Green Bay is performing at such a high level that it's difficult to envision the Packers losing more than a couple of games, tops. Even if the Packers cannot catch the '72 Dolphins or '07 Patriots, it's going to be hard for another NFC North team, or any team in the NFC, to catch them. It already is Green Bay's division and conference to lose.
On to this week's 10 Spot:
The need for wide receivers around the league is hardly glaring, which raises another interesting point: It is going to be more difficult than ever for free-agent wide receiver Terrell Owens to find work in the NFL this season. If teams balked at trading for established wide receivers at this point in the season, it's hard to see any teams getting excited about adding a veteran wide receiver coming off knee surgery. Even though Owens has said he intends to be back this season, it's hard to find a logical landing spot for him -- short of the right team suffering a key injury at wide receiver.
Tennessee coach Mike Munchak has said he would like to see what type of shape Owens is in, and maybe there is a spot for the mercurial receiver in Tennessee. But Owens struggled to find many landing spots in the past and there will be scant interest in a wide receiver who turns 38 in December.
This turned out to be the season Brett Favre finally went away. It might be the season Owens is forced to do the same.
2. The end for McNabb? For a while, Owens and Donovan McNabb were linked in Philadelphia. Now they could be linked together in another way.
McNabb is in a similar situation to Owens in that potential landing spots are few. Two offseasons ago, the only teams that actively pursued McNabb were Oakland and Washington, and they no longer would be interested. This past summer, Minnesota was the only team that actively courted McNabb, and the Vikings are not expected to do the same this offseason once the veteran's one-year contract expires.
If he wants to continue playing, and McNabb recently said he planned to play multiple seasons, he could have a difficult time finding a new home. And if Vikings rookie quarterback Christian Ponder stays healthy for the remainder of this season, it is fair to wonder whether McNabb has played his last NFL game.
3. Polamalu and concussions: Here's the headline from a story that ran in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: "Risky business: Polamalu's concussions could be a concern."
The headline ran on Thursday, May 1, 2003, but it could just as easily have run this week. The story went on to read, in part: "The Steelers had hard-hitting USC safety Troy Polamalu undergo a neurological exam a few weeks before last weekend's NFL Draft. That was because of Polamalu's extensive concussion history. He has sustained at least five concussions since his freshman year in high school, including three during his career at Southern Cal. Steelers neurological surgeon Dr. Joseph Maroon determined that Polamalu had sustained no lasting damage and was fit for the NFL. The team proceeded to make Polamalu the highest-drafted safety in franchise history (16th overall). The question is, does Polamalu's history make him vulnerable to more concussions? ... On the day the Steelers drafted him, Polamalu said he is not concerned about his concussion history. 'I don't think it's an issue at all,' he said."
Well, more than eight years later, not much has changed. Polamalu's concussions are still cause for concern and the safety believes he is fit to play. And he might be. But after Polamalu suffered concussion-like symptoms last Sunday against Jacksonville, and considering all the concussions he has suffered in the NFL, there is reason to be more concerned than ever about his future.
He is expected to play Sunday at Arizona. Not to sound like an alarmist, but there certainly is enough reason for anyone who cares about the safety of players to be alarmed.
4. Now that's gamesmanship: Sometimes there are games played within the games. One came last Sunday, when Eagles quarterback Michael Vick absorbed a significant hit and came up wobbly and struggling to see. Redskins veteran linebacker London Fletcher wrapped his arm around Vick and motioned for Eagles team doctors and officials to come over.
Fletcher said this week that his biggest concern was the safety and well-being of Vick, whom the Redskins linebacker said "was not right." But Fletcher also had an ulterior motive. He admitted that when he motioned over doctors and officials, he was trying to get Vick removed from the game. Fletcher said that he knew that if doctors and officials came over to check on Vick, he would be ordered to the sideline to sit out a portion of the game.
"I was aware of that, yes," Fletcher said.
And Fletcher was hoping that Vick's benching would last awhile. Unfortunately for Washington, it didn't. Eagles backup quarterback Vince Young came on for two plays and threw an interception on the second one. Then Vick returned and restored order to the Eagles' offense and day. But the play was a perfect example of Fletcher's thoughtfulness and savvy -- and it's a strategy that other players could try to replicate in the future.
5. Raiders' draft situation: Talk about credit-card-like debt: Oakland already has traded its first-, second-, third-, fourth- and seventh-round picks in the 2012 draft, the costliest acquisition coming this week when the Raiders sent a first-round pick and another conditional first-round pick to the Bengals for quarterback Carson Palmer. But it's also worth noting that the Raiders lost cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, tight end Zach Miller, guard Robert Gallery and linebacker Thomas Howard in free agency.
As a result of those losses, the Raiders will receive compensatory draft picks at the back end of certain rounds. Oakland did sign free-agent tight end Kevin Boss, so it could lose one of those picks. (It's easier to figure out algorithms than the NFL formula for compensatory picks.) But by the time the draft rolls around, the Raiders will not be as devoid of picks as they are today.
6. Raiders will keep pounding: Even with Palmer playing quarterback, the way the Raiders play or win games will not change. They have won by making running back Darren McFadden the league's leading rusher, and their ground game the No. 2-ranked unit in the NFL.
It has been a long time since Oakland's rushing attack was this strong. Now McFadden is trying to become the first Raider since Marcus Allen in 1985 to lead the NFL in rushing. More than ever, McFadden and Michael Bush will be asked to carry the ball and the Raiders. And it will be more important than ever for the Raiders to get early leads. If they're asked to play from behind, they're going to encounter problems.
7. Run Eagles, run: As good as the Raiders' run game has been, no one has been more productive doing it than the Eagles, who sport the league's leading rushing attack. They are running the football better than at any other time in the Andy Reid era, which is one reason Philadelphia, despite its poor start, is far from finished. What also makes the Eagles dangerous, and compelling, is their schedule. Six of their remaining 10 games are at home -- including their next three, against Dallas, Chicago and Arizona -- and the only teams left on their schedule with records above .500 are the Giants, Patriots and Redskins.
Plus, the Eagles have their bye this weekend before playing the Cowboys. Under Reid, the Eagles are 12-0 after their bye week. Then it's almost time for November and December, when Reid has a record of 65-27. Watch out for the Eagles. They opened the season as the favorites in the NFC East -- and still might be.
8. Big doings in Big D: For at least one weekend, Dallas will be the unofficial sports capital of the world. Games 3 and 4 of the World Series will be at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. On Sunday, the Cowboys will host the St. Louis Rams. Everyone expects the baseball games to be close, and as much of a mismatch as the NFL one looks like, it also could be tight. Each of the Cowboys' past 11 games has been decided by four or fewer points, the longest streak in NFL history according to Elias Sports Bureau. In 1983-84, the Lions played seven straight games that were decided by four or fewer points. These Cowboys go down to the wire against anybody. Now they will try to end that streak against a Rams team that is the only one in the league averaging fewer than 10 points a game.
9. The Buffalo connection: As unusual as it might seem, the University of Buffalo is now making its mark in the NFL. Packers running back James Starks and Bills wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt played together at the University of Buffalo, graduated together and are standing out together.
Starks leads the Packers in rushing with 299 yards, and Roosevelt has become the Bills' No. 3 wideout, reeling in a 60-yard touchdown pass last Sunday against the Giants. Each player hails from Western New York -- Starks from Niagara Falls, Roosevelt from Buffalo. Last season Starks developed into an integral part of the Packers' offense, and Roosevelt has begun to do the same with the Bills. This season, the Bills have become a factor in the NFL and, equally surprising, the University of Buffalo also has.
10. Which way to the end zone? Scoring provides the stat of the week: Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson has scored nine touchdowns, more than twice as many as the entire Rams team, which has scored only four. But the Rams are not alone in their offensive ineptitude. Johnson also has scored three more touchdowns than the Jaguars.
The Schef's specialties
• Game of the week: Chargers at Jets -- New York's offense needs to step up to keep up, and former Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson would like to help his team against his former team.
• Player of the week: Saints running back Mark Ingram -- Though Ingram still hasn't rushed for more than 55 yards in any game this season, he has scored a touchdown in three of New Orleans' past four games.
• Upset of the week: Atlanta over Detroit -- At the beginning of the season, no one would have thought it an upset; now it would be classified as one.
Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.
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