NFL WEEK 15
Eagles WR/KR DeSean Jackson, right, has had his share of electrifying plays this season. The second-year pro has eight touchdowns of 50 yards or more, tying an NFL record. "Every time he touches the ball," backup QB Michael Vick told USA Today, "you think he's going to do something big."
Two players have a chance to join elite company in reaching 1,000 career receptions; only five have completed the feat in NFL history. Bills WR Terrell Owens (996) and Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez (991) are closing in.
115 Wins this decade by the Colts, surpassing the previous NFL record set by the 1990s 49ers.
Some teams have surprised us this season, from the first-place Bengals and Chargers to what looks like a Super Bowl contender in the Vikings. But others have left fans scratching their heads. The Bears thought they would be better with QB Jay Cutler. The Giants (7-6) have fallen hard after a 5-0 start and are third in the NFC East. The Titans may have crept back into the playoff race after a horrendous start (0-6), but 6-7 is a far cry from a year ago when they won the first 10 games. But the two most disappointing so far are:
Not many would have expected the defending Super Bowl champions to fall this fast. At one point, they were 6-2 and riding high. But the Steelers, with WRs Santonio Holmes, left, and Hines Ward, have lost five straight and are in danger of missing the playoffs. There have been big injuries, for sure, such as S Troy Polamalu and DE Aaron Smith, and another concussion for QB Ben Roethlisberger. But they still shouldn't have lost to the Browns, Raiders and Chiefs.
The Panthers were close to the Super Bowl last season, but five interceptions by QB Jake Delhomme cost them in the NFC Championship Game. The Panthers, with WR Steve Smith, left, and FB Brad Hoover, boast one of the game's top rushing offenses, and their pass defense is pretty solid, too. So they should be talking more about playoff contention instead of sitting at 5-8, with two of their wins coming against the 1-12 Bucs and another against the 4-9 Redskins.
Bills (5-8) vs. Patriots (8-5)
The Patriots have shown signs of vulnerability and dealt with the distraction of defending WR Randy Moss last week. The Bills could sneak up on them.
Looks as if Dolphins QB Chad Henne, left, is coming into his own. The second-year player has taken advantage of his opportunity, starting for injured Chad Pennington, and come through the past two weeks. Henne set a franchise single-game record for consecutive completions (17) last week in a 14-10 win over Jacksonville. Henne, a second-round pick in 2008, is 7-3 as a starter. "From Day 1, we knew he had a lot of potential, and we've been able to sit back and watch him grow," RB Ricky Williams said.
Taking a pass
While the Bengals have surprised this season in nearing an AFC North title, Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty pointed out a key flaw: "They can't pass." QB Carson Palmer, who threw for 94 yards in last week's loss to the Vikings, has zero 300-yard passing games, and in three of his past six, he hasn't topped 200. Wrote Daugherty: "The NFL is deep in home run quarterbacks. The very good teams all have one: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Philip Rivers. Tom Brady, when healthy, still puts a fright into defensive coordinators. Aaron Rodgers and Donovan McNabb can win games. Right now, Carson Palmer is hitting eighth and slapping singles the other way."
Prediction of the week
Former NFL RB Jerome Bettis — an SI.com contributor — thinks the Raiders may be where QB/ATH Michael Vick ends up next year: "It's been proven lately that Oakland can win with smart QB play. And just imagine how quickly he flies back onto the national radar if he revives a franchise like the Raiders. Is it a challenge? Certainly. But it could gain him back some serious respect, and I think that's what he's looking for right now."
"He might not have the star power of a Brett Favre or Tom Brady. He also doesn't have an undefeated team, as is the case with Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. But Aaron Rodgers does have a squad that is hitting its stride at the same time he's capping off a Pro Bowl-worthy season. For now, that should be plenty good for the folks in Green Bay."
ESPN.com's Jeffri Chadiha, on Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, right
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What they're saying
"The reason you won't ever hear (Bill) Belichick or (Tom) Brady even remotely chide (Randy) Moss is because they know — as Denny Green knew a decade ago and Mike Tice knew after him — that Moss will check out totally if you challenge him mentally. He's soft. And Brady and Belichick are trying to get whatever they can out of this classic prima donna as they try to save their season. Sitting on him doesn't accomplish that."
SI.com's Peter King, on Patriots WR Randy Moss, right
Times wires, SI.com, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Philadelphia Daily News, ESPN.com and the NFL contributed to this report.