5. Peyton Manning is on pace to throw 700 passes. Exactly.
That would be a league record. Drew Bledsoe (1994, New England) holds it now, with 691. The most Manning's thrown in a year is 591, and he could pass that in the first half Sunday; at 569, he's only 22 shy of that. Not exactly the kind of record Manning prefers to have, but until the Colts run better and he gets on the same page with the receivers, he'll be a threat to break it.
6. Matt Cassel for MVP.
In the strict sense of "value,'' it's arguable. In the eight games before Week 14, Cassel had thrown 19 touchdowns and one interception. He sat Sunday after having his appendix removed Wednesday, and the Chiefs were absolutely dreadful, losing to San Diego 31-0 and generating 69 yards of offense. Nineteen net passing yards by Brodie Croyle and Tyler Palko. The Chiefs did not have a 30-yard drive.
Kansas City had a two-game division lead two days ago. Now, the Chargers host San Francisco Thursday night, and if San Diego wins, the Chiefs will be playing to keep sole possession of first place in the AFC West next Sunday at St. Louis. Without Cassel, they're probably sunk. One team medic told me the other day that he'd sit an appendicitis victim for two weeks. We'll see how Cassel heals this week.
7. Don't be surprised to see more foot-dragging in the Favre case.
The Vikings play tonight. The league is focused on an owners meeting Wednesday in Dallas. So you won't hear anything concluding the NFL's investigation in the Favre sexting case for at least a few days now. I haven't changed my opinion about the ultimate outcome: It is unlikely he will be suspended, and it's certainly possible he will not be sanctioned at all for his alleged interaction with Jenn Sterger, the former Jets' sideline host.
8. What a long, strange trip it's been.
Anatomy of a story lots of big men will tell their kids about some day:
The Giants flew from Newark headed to Minneapolis early Saturday afternoon, trying to beat the coming snowstorm, and when they were about a half-hour out, one of the flight attendants said they'd be one of the last planes in before the airport closed. Ooops. Ten minutes later, they veered south, out of the storm's immediate path, and landed 471 miles away, in Kansas City. They sat on the plane. They waited. They disembarked to a secure gate area, waiting for word on where they'd go next. They played cards, Family Feud and Scrabble on their iPads. They watched the Chiefs, just two gates away, get loaded up for their charter to San Diego. Sunny San Diego. Warm San Diego. The Chiefs left. The Giants stayed, eventually learned they weren't going anywhere that night, and bunked in at the Kansas City Airport Marriott.
Conference calls. Itineraries torn up. "We had five different itineraries, I think, over the weekend,'' Tom Coughlin told me. Meetings at the hotel. Plans to fly out in the morning. Hand-wringing. Coughlin, I'm told, wasn't that upset by it. "Why get upset?' he said. "You have to realize these things are out of your hands.''
"A lot of times,'' left tackle David Diehl said, "he'll say to us, 'Midstream adjust, midstream adjust,' when you've got to change what you're doing because something comes up or something changes. So we're like, 'Hey coach, midstream adjust! Midstream adjust!' I actually think it was good for us. Usually, when you leave for a road game, guys go off on their own and do whatever. Here, we were all together. Bonding time. I didn't hear guys being mad about it.''
Some, in fact, looked forward to the crazy-quilt aspect of it. "Some of the guys were looking at it like it was really old-school, and they loved it,'' said play-by-play voice Bob Papa, who was on the plane. "Osi Umenyiora, Keith Bulluck and a few other guys thought it was going to be cool to fly to the game Sunday morning and just play.''
Then, Saturday night, the game got postponed to Monday. Then, Sunday morning, the Metrodome roof collapsed. Then the Giants waited, and then they were told to go to Detroit, where the game would be played tonight at Ford Field. But they'd better hurry. A bad snowstorm was battering Detroit.
In their hotel last night, they watched football and had their normal night-before-the-game meetings. For the second time. They were excited about NOT playing in Minnesota, where the crowd noise is a big edge for the Vikings. "For us to hear Eli's cadence will definitely be a big factor,'' said Coughlin. This morning, coaches were spending four hours getting started on the Eagles' game plan, because they weren't going to be in East Rutherford all day today, which was the original schedule.
"At the end of the day,'' Diehl said, "I think we're going to be happy to just be playing football.''
Tonight, 7:20 p.m. central time, before a strange crowd of people watching the New York Giants play for the NFC East lead. Free of charge. Rooting for ... who knows? The first person in line for the free tickets to tonight's game got there at 2 a.m. today. Should be an interesting night, whatever happens. It's on Fox in New York, Albany, Minneapolis and Mankato, Minn., and on DirecTV Sunday Ticket if you have it. Play ball. Finally.
9. In Jets news, I think Sal Alosi needs a week off ... and other things.
The Jets were angling for home-field through the AFC playoffs a week ago this morning. Ever since then, a lot of offensive careers, including quite possibly that of coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, have been badly tarnished. New York has scored three field goals in the past two games, their strong running game is a faded memory, and Mark Sanchez looks like he needs a long vacation. When linebacker Bart Scott was leaving work Sunday after the 10-6 loss to Miami, he was asked by New York Times reporter Greg Bishop about the fans chanting, "Same Old Jets,'' and whether they had reason to be worried. "They've got good reason to panic,'' Scott told Bishop. "We haven't been playing good football, and we've got good teams coming up.''
At Pittsburgh on Sunday. At Chicago the following Sunday.
Uh-oh. The Jets are 9-4, but if the Ravens win at Houston tonight, New York would slip to the sixth playoff spot in the AFC with three games to play. And losses the next two weeks (they'll be underdogs in both) would probably make the final game of the season, home with Buffalo, a must-win for the Jets to make the playoffs. Lots of ifs there, but the point is this: They've gone from the number one seed to an endangered playoff species in eight days.
Suddenly, the Jets seem like that team full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
With a bully, and I don't mean Rex Ryan. Their head strength and conditioning coach, Sal Alosi, tripped Miami special-teamer Nolan Carroll while he was running down the sideline covering a punt, causing Carroll to limp off the field. I've seen some bush-league things in 26 years covering the NFL, but that's got to be in the top 10. Though Alosi apologized, I think a one-game suspension for affecting the competitive balance of a game is in order.
10. Gene Smith: The NFL executive we don't know. Yet.
The Jaguars have a one-game lead on Indianapolis with three to play, including the potential AFC South championship game next Sunday in Indiana. Their general manager, Gene Smith, has done a masterful job of retooling the roster since taking the job 23 months ago. In fact, all 15 of his draft picks are still with the organization -- either active, on the practice squad or on injured-reserve. Six of them started Sunday against Oakland, and five others played.
Smith's an interesting story. When he got hired as the Jags' GM, he said he thought of professional team-building in a similar way to college team-building, and thought back to his days as recruiting coordinator at small-college Edinboro (Pa.) two decades earlier. "We didn't necessarily go the junior-college route,'' Smith said. "We went with high school players, and I saw over the course of time players who were in the program four and five years develop this sense of ownership, 'This is our team.'
"I saw on our best teams great peer leadership because they felt that when things were going wrong that they were going to correct them. The guys that were in the program for three, four, five years, they were stepping forward and saying, 'No, this is how you do it. This is our way.' I think when you have players in the building that play well, do right off the field, if you have an opportunity to reward your own ... I think it sends the right message."
The starters are led by four meat-and-potatoes linemen: defensive tackles Tyson Alualu (round one, 2010) and Terrance Knighton (round three, 2009), and offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, the first two pick of the 2009 draft for the Jags. A strong cover corner, Derek Cox, came in the third round last year. A seventh-rounder last year, running back Rashad Jennings, burned the Raiders for 109 rushing yards in Jacksonville's 38-31 win; he's become a good complement for Maurice Jones-Drew. Fourth-rounder Mike Thomas from last year is a speed threat at wide receiver -- and gave Jacksonville the gift win over Houston last month by being in the right place at the right time with the Hail Mary catch from David Garrard. And so on.
Smith got famous -- or infamous -- last April for picking Alualu 10th overall when most teams had him rated between 30 and 50. I remember talking to him and getting the sense that he truly didn't care what the public or media or his scouting peers thought. Either he was whistling past the graveyard and being a macho guy about it, or he was sticking to his principles of drafting good players with good character who could turn an inconsistent team into a solid, consistent playoff contender.
Knighton, a nose type with rush ability that a pure space-eater doesn't have, and Alualu are already one of the three or four best defensive-tackle combinations in football, and neither has turned 25. Smith had the courage to take the slings and arrows and make sure he got Alualu without getting cute by trying to pick him lower, and the kid is panning out. What I appreciate about Smith is he's not one of those scouts who asks others what they think, then forms his opinion. He decides what he thinks -- not recklessly, but with a strong base of fact behind it.
Executive-of-the-Year is turning into a good horse race now between Kansas City's Scott Pioli and Smith, with Atlanta's Thomas Dimitroff, Giants GM Jerry Reese, Mike Tannenbaum of the Jets (though some of his pickups are fading in New York's recent downturn) and Billy Devaney of the Rams contenders too. All have good cases, and it's a very subjective award. Whether Smith wins or not, I like the young talent base he's built -- a lot.
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