4. Brett Favre's alive. Daughter Breleigh was fit to be tied when Favre told her in late July he was staying retired, and, truth be told, Favre was in full waffling mode for much of August until Minnesota coach Brad Childress called and said it's now or never. Favre unretired for the second straight year. Good call. Vikes are 7-1, have swept Green Bay decisively, and Favre has a 16-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio, the best at midseason in his 19-year career.
5. The Browns, again, are adrift on Lake Erie. Having lost his director of football operations, Erin O'Brien, and hand-picked rookie GM, George Kokinis, both under mysterious circumstances near midseason, coach Eric Mangini now awaits the hiring of a Cleveland football czar to determine his fate. Hope he's renting. The 2-14 expansion Browns of 1999 had significantly more promise than this team.
Which leads us to ...
Cleveland is looking for another solution.
On Saturday at NBC, I reported Cleveland owner Randy Lerner has spoken with, or will speak with, former Super Bowl-team architects and/or coaches Ron Wolf, Mike Holmgren and Ernie Accorsi about the football czar position he hopes to fill to set his organization on a better path. Translation: He wants someone with a great résumé to be a helping hand for Mangini -- and, depending how the rest of the year goes, to perhaps be the one who tells Lerner, "You've got to fire this guy and start over. Again.''
I believe Lerner still has faith in Mangini, but that the faith has been shaken by the work environment in the building that would cause two of the people Mangini trusts most in the world, O'Brien and Kokinis, to be vanquished by midseason of their first year together in Cleveland. I think nothing would make Lerner happier than to hire Holmgren, hand him a five-year GM contract, and finally believe he's put the right man in place to steer the team out of its Washington Nationals-type funk.
There's no question a new boss is needed. For too long, this team has made knee-jerk financial decision that will haunt Lerner's bottom line for year. He's on the hook to Romeo Crennel and Phil Savage for $21 million, which you know if you've followed this story. But what you don't know is the three-year, $6-million extension the team handed offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski late in Crennel's tenure. That's the reason Lerner needs a Holmgren (or an Accorsi or Wolf). If someone in the office mentioned handing a hard-working but unproven coordinator $2 mill a year, Holmgren would say one of two things: "Hey, I'll do it for $2 million a year,'' or "Are you out of your mind?''
Lerner wants the new man on board very soon so he could make an educated recommendation about Mangini's fate soon after the season. One of the reasons there's a little pressure on the Mangini decision is that the team will likely be in the market for a quarterback in the April draft. It'd be silly to have Mangini make the pick, unless Lerner was certain Mangini was his man to lead the team into the future.
And if Mangini goes, that would bring to at least $35-million the amount of money Lerner would be paying people to not work for the Browns. This team needs a life-preserver in the worst way.
That was a potentially (and I stress "potentially'') season-altering win for Dallas last night.
I think the smartest thing the Cowboys did in the offseason was jettison Terrell Owens. It has allowed Tony Romo to concentrate on only one thing when he drops back to pass -- hitting the open man, rather than making sure T.O.'s happy. And Miles Austin sure has been open a lot in the past month, even if it happened only one time in Philadelphia.
About an hour after Dallas' first significant road win since one at Lambeau Field 14 months ago, Romo said over the cell phone, "Shock you a little bit?''
Yes, a little. Holding an explosive Philly team to 16 points is a surprise. Winning at the Linc 10 or so months after losing there by 38 is a surprise. And playing clutch football on both sides of the ball in the fourth quarter of a big game is a surprise.
A few minutes after Cris Collinsworth astutely said on the game telecast that Romo hadn't found shooting star Austin yet, Dallas lined up for a play at the Eagles' 49 midway through the fourth quarter in a 13-13 game. Austin was split left, with cornerback Sheldon Brown playing off the line opposite him. "At that time of the game, you've played a lot of plays, and you've seen things in their defense, and you're just trying to react and put your team in the best position to make a play,'' Romo said. Translation: Austin is quick, and Brown could be sold on a double-move (basically, the old sandlot stop-and-go), and so Romo called it. "I tried to sell it with my eyes a little bit. You have to believe in your guy to get open, and I really believe in Miles.''
Austin sprinted, slowed and before he could sprint again, Brown jumped the route and Romo threw a soft spiral over him right into the hands of Austin.
"It's weird,'' Austin said. "I lost it in the lights for a minute, but when it came down, I saw it and caught it. I felt someone behind me but I thought I could score.'' He did.
I asked Austin, after all of his recent success, if he was getting a little testy out there, not catching a ball in the first 50 minutes of a big game. And what he said is why the Cowboys like the kid so much.
"Well, there's times when I think I'm open, and I wish I'd get the ball,'' he said. "But I'm not Tony. And I have no idea what he's going through back there. Usually he's got some 300-pound guy back there chasing him, trying to rip his head off. So no, I don't get too upset by that. Right now, we've got a good thing going. Guys are making plays when they're called.''
Someone send that quote to Owens.
"Each guy doesn't have to do anything but his best,'' Romo said. "That'll be good enough for us to make the plays we need.''
There's a lot of football to play, and it's too early to say anything about Dallas except that it's in first place, alone, in the NFC East, and nobody but Bum Phillips thought that'd happen this late in the season. The Cowboys don't have a killer schedule. They might be good enough to spoil the Favre-Brees NFC Championship Game.
Upon further review, the unrestricted free-agency list is not so bad.
I wrote a few weeks ago that the UFA class of 2010 would be horrible, because it wouldn't include unsigned fourth- and fifth-year vets if the league and union don't have a new CBA done by March. But because of the rise of players like Aubrayo Franklin and the promise of interesting prospects like Brian St. Pierre, the list looks a little better now. Not good, but not as bad as it looked on Labor Day.
1. Vince Wilfork, NT, New England. With more teams valuing 3-4 tackles, Wilfork will be in demand.
2. Karlos Dansby, MLB, Arizona. Watch his 2008 postseason and you'll see he's going to be well-paid.
3. Julius Peppers, DE, Carolina. He woke up about three weeks ago. He's ridiculously talented, obviously. Question is, who's going to pay $12 million a year or so for Peppers, knowing they have absolutely no idea what kind of production he'll give?
4. Aubrayo Franklin, NT, San Francisco. The best run-stopper you've never heard of, and he won't cost what Wilfork will get.
5. Kevin Walter, WR, Houston. Productive, smart and willing to play any role, outside or slot.
6. Ryan Pickett, NT, Green Bay. Three nose men in the top six. Dr. Z would be so proud of me.
7. Ryan Clark, FS, Pittsburgh. Underrated soul of the Steelers defense, but he's absorbed lots of hard hits.
8. Aaron Kampman, OLB/DE, Green Bay. I get the feeling he wants to put on a few pounds and go back to end, which he feels is his home.
9. Antonio Bryant, WR, Tampa Bay. I'd like to see him stay healthy and attitude-free.
10. Justin Bannan, DT, Baltimore. Someone will probably pay this Baltimore role-player too much, but if you surround him with good penetrators, he'll help.
11. Darren Sharper, FS, New Orleans. Normally, I'd say a 34-year-old player (his birthday was last Wednesday) should be avoided in free agency. But the age rules don't apply to Sharper, Ray Lewis and Jack LaLanne.
12. Brian St. Pierre, QB, Arizona. Someone might see him as 2010's Matt Cassel and go buy him for a fifth of the cost.
13. Ben Watson, TE, New England. Patriots never seemed to warm to him. Maybe another team will.
14. Roy Williams, S, Cincinnati. Career rehab is going just fine, but he's not going to be the big star he was for a couple of years in Dallas.
15. Chad Pennington, QB, Miami. I might be wrong. I think if I were running Cleveland, or some team looking to develop a rookie quarterback next year, I'd pay Pennington $4 million to play for a season, hold the fort, and teach the kid how to be a professional.
NFL Truth & Rumors