Drama abounds in Redskins-Titans duel, plus more Week 11 storylines
The Titans have lost two straight, but their woes pale next to the 'Skins'
One of the great NFL rivalries, Steelers-Raiders, is finally relevant again
Brett Favre's final meaningful NFL game may well be Packers vs. Vikings
The NFL's most undeniable truth, year after year, is that headliners and big brands always draw the most interest.
Which leads us directly to the NFL's Week 11 storylines. Stars, stories and flagship rivalries are everywhere.
There's the Peyton Manning-Tom Brady rivalry, which is so good it should be punctuated with Roman numerals. There's the sudden Immaculate Resuscitation of Raiders-Steelers. Then there are the Cowboys, who may not be playoff-bound, but certainly appear to be interesting again.
Brett Favre most likely will play in his final Packers-Vikings brawl. The two best players at their respective positions literally will go toe-to-toe in the Meadowlands. And even what should be a ho-hum Monday nighter between losing teams has added flavor, with the rival Chargers and Broncos exchanging blows and maybe playing for their coaches' jobs.
But we begin in Nashville, cradle of country music and stories of broken hearts and dreams. With deference to Toby Keith, the Redskins and Titans are not as good as they once were. But all they're hoping to be is as good once as they ever were. One last-gasp run at something special could be riding on it.
Randy Moss plays his first game at LP Field for the 5-4 Titans, who looked like they could be the team to beat in the division, but have lost two straight. Moss said he's happy and loving life with the fun-loving Titans, but he caught just one of four balls thrown his way in his debut. Things could sour in a hurry for Moss, who's in the midst of his last chance in the NFL, is looking for one more big payday and is key to the Titans' playoff chances in place of the injured Kenny Britt.
The Redskins, meanwhile, are coming off a humiliating defensive performance against the Eagles. The good news is the 'Skins won't be facing Michael Vick, whose laundry list of scintillating plays against the Redskins included everything but Martinizing. The bad news is they will face Vince Young, not quite as electric as Vick, but no slouch when it comes to chunking long balls and carving up defenses with unpredictable improvised throws and mad scrambling. The Redskins are the league's worst defense, and second-worst pass defense, giving up 286.6 yards per game. Moss figures to be a big part of the game plan this week.
Then again, could VY be losing the locker room? And could there be yet another quarterback controversy/meltdown on the way in Tennessee? According to various reports, Young's commitment and leadership was questioned by some teammates during the Titans' bye week, when he failed to work as hard as some had hoped rehabbing an ankle injury he suffered against the Chargers. Also, questions arose when Young did not start against the Dolphins, playing only after Kerry Collins suffered a calf injury. Young's ego has proved to be fragile in the past and already there's grumbling that when healthy Collins should be the starter. How will VY respond?
The VY intrigue, however, pales in comparison to the Daniel Snyder-Mike Shanahan relationship already seemingly on the rocks and the new dance that should become all the rage in The District. It's called the Haynesworth and it's easy. Basically, all you do is lay face-first on the floor, doing nothing, until the song is over. The 'Skins could be on the brink of full-blown implosion, again. Sunday at LP Field is huge for a number of Redskins players and coaches.
Moving on in Week 11, intrigue abounds:
2. Sometimes you just know when you're watching something historic ... and Tom Brady-Peyton Manning is one of those times. You never needed a historian to tell you Michael Jordan in an NBA Final was timeless. It was the same anytime Wilt Chamberlain stood eye-to-eye with Bill Russell. USA-USSR felt like reading from the pages of a history book even before the epic USA win. You've no doubt already heard and read all the numbers and hyperbole. The best advice is to simply sit back, watch, enjoy and try to capture every image in your mind's eye, so someday you can tell your grandkids.
3. If the Texans ever become postseason relevant, could Darrelle Revis-Andre Johnson become one of the league's greatest mano-a-mano rivalries? Revis characterized his matchup against Andre Johnson like, "Jordan and Bird or Jordan and Magic." Within the game, few would argue. Johnson constantly draws the most coverage and has defensive schemes built around his immense gifts. And Revis, of course, is probably the best. Amid so many headline-grabbers, this duel in The Meadowlands could be one of the year's best.
4. The only thing missing is blood on the bridge of Jack Lambert's nose and a pound of Stick 'Em on Lester Hayes' socks. Raiders-Steelers is relevant again and somewhere John Facenda is smiling down on it all. The league built much of its brand and image on this storied rivalry. It's been largely a non-rivalry of late. But the Raiders have won four of five and have their swagger back. The Steelers may be coming off a loss, but they're still the Steelers.
5. Is the Bucs' feel-good NFL story of the year coming to an end? This could be where Raheem Morris earns his money and quarterback Josh Freeman earns his stripes. The lovable Bucs are sneaking up on no one -- specifically the suddenly confident 49ers, who are coming off back-to-back wins, are playing much better defense and have found their quarterback in Troy Smith. The Bucs, meanwhile, must respond from a loss to the Falcons, have been knocked down a notch in their division and must deal with rookie receiver Mike Williams' DUI arrest early Friday morning.
6. Michael Vick is shocking the NFL world in an altogether different way now. In some circles, Michael Vick may never be forgiven for the heinous acts committed on innocent animals. But even his harshest critics -- those who never wanted to see him succeed -- cannot deny that his story is compelling and, yup, even inspiring. Even Roger Goodell said he's proud of how Vick has remade himself and how he's, "doing all the right things." Oh, by the way. Do against the Giants what he did against the Redskins, and Vick likely will become the league's MVP.
7. Is Reggie Bush really that important to the Saints mounting another run? We'll probably find out on Sunday, when Bush figures to return in a late-afternoon showdown with the visiting Seahawks. Bush's impact, or lack thereof, always has been a talking point for national pundits and critics. But the fact is, since he broke a fibula in Week 2 against the 49ers, the Saints have been a mediocre 4-3 and clearly not themselves. Bush's scintillating speed may well be the juice this team needs.
8. Todd Haley could sure use a group hug after not shaking Josh McDaniels' hand -- and a win. Neither the hugs nor the W should be that big a problem for the Chiefs' coach, who experienced a rocky week after snubbing McDaniels following last week's loss. The Cards are another story. Haley owes much of his success to the opportunity he got from Ken Whisenhunt and the playmaking from Cards receiver Larry Fitzgerald. What Haley really could use, however, is the victory, as the Chiefs are locked in a tough AFC West race.
9. What will Page 2 of Jason Garrett's resume look like? From seemingly having little chance of succeeding Wade Phillips as Cowboys head coach, Garrett has become all the rage in the Metroplex. He's tried to change the culture at the former Camp Cupcake, showing few players slack, tightening rules and, most important, winning impressively. The Lions no longer are to be taken lightly. Another impressive effort -- this time at home -- and Garrett may well have some thinking 9-7 and playoffs.
10. Brett Favre's final meaningful NFL game may well be, appropriately, Packers-Vikings. He's been a part of 36 incarnations of one of the NFL's great rivalries, winning 19 times -- twice in a Vikings uniform. At 3-6, the Vikings already are considered to be done by many. Brad Childress? Gone. Favre's career? Over. A win at home, however, would keep longshot hopes alive and, if nothing else, give Favre the fondest of farewells in a game that matters.