The theme of Week Seven is on the quarterbacks, as it often is, but in this case the question is whether change is a good thing:
1. In Denver, Tim Tebow mania has been brewing for two weeks, and you can bet that the Miami crowd might be a little more full because of a certain QB. The Dolphins, coincidentally, had planned to honor the 2008 University of Florida national champions. Tebow just happened to be on that team. Dolphins fans have taken to the airwaves and Twitter and such to voice their displeasure. It just seems like one of those seasons for the team. Of course, Tebow will be without his top deep threat, Brandon Lloyd, who was sold for pennies on the dollar to the Rams for a draft pick. Are the Broncos giving Tebow a fair chance to succeed? A question for another day. The other interesting irony of this matchup is the trade these teams failed to execute in the preseason, with Kyle Orton remaining in Denver. Think both sides would like to turn back the clock now? The Broncos for sure would, and the Dolphins, instead, will replace injured Chad Henne with Matt Moore, who threw two INTs against the Jets on Monday.
2. The Redskins must decide: John Beck or Rex Grossman. Although the casual fan might ask, "What's the difference?" there is one. The reason that Mike Shanahan has to consider benching Grossman is that the coach no longer could hide Grossman's shortcomings. Whether or not Beck is better is a very worthy question, and no matter who is under center, the Redskins must be far better about sticking with the run, which they failed to do against the Eagles. Running is a great approach against the Panthers, who now have allowed three big performances the past four games to Maurice Jones-Drew (122 rushing yards), Matt Forté (205) and Michael Turner (139). Oh, and there is growing concern that the Panthers' QB, Cam Newton, is starting to regress. He's 1-5, hasn't been able to avoid mistakes (nine interceptions) and is coming down to earth a bit.
3. Potential QB change No. 3 for the week appears to be happening in Minnesota when the Vikings host the Packers. Christian Ponder looked decent in replacing Donovan McNabb against the Bears in Week Six, and Leslie Frazier apparently has decided to find out what they have in Ponder. Of course, Frazier probably had to think hard about sticking his prized rookie behind a shell of an offensive line that lost ORT Phil Loadholt and C John Sullivan in Sunday's loss. McNabb certainly hasn't been the only problem, but one thing was noticeable: When Ponder entered the game, the offense appeared to have more pep in its step. McNabb still thinks that this is not his final chapter, but it appears his future in Minnesota is nil.
4. Bengals owner Mike Brown reportedly has bent and will deal Carson Palmer to the Raiders for two draft picks, and at least one first-rounder. First reaction: Wow. One, didn't think Brown would relent, and two, didn't think the Raiders were that desperate. Guess they were not as excited about Jason Campbell as we thought. On the immediate front, the Raiders probably will have to go a week with Kyle Boller as the starter and Terrelle Pryor (remember him?) as the backup. Having the Chiefs on the schedule helps some, but they have looked better the past two weeks and are going for a three-game win streak that looked near-impossible just a few weeks ago. What's interesting to keep an eye on long-term in Oakland is whether Campbell tries to come back in 4-6 weeks from his broken collarbone, as he says he can do. But what's the rush? If Palmer is there, would Campbell even start? Can't imagine he would. And it would be tough to imagine Palmer being ready for Sunday. Throwing balls through truck tires in his backyard, or however he's keeping in shape, isn't likely enough.
5. Houston might just have a problem. This is a big, big game against the Titans given that the division, one they never have won, is up for grabs and they can't seem to grab it. Matt Schaub isn't the only guy to blame, but you know if this guy was playing in Dallas, he might have been sent out of town with his kidneys removed by amateur surgeons. Schaub had to leave the loss to the Ravens with a hip injury but is expected to be fine. Andre Johnson might be back for this game, but if he's not the Texans need to find alternatives in the passing game — and stat. Derrick Mason is what he is. TE Owen Daniels is capable of big things, but he was shut out after the second quarter Sunday. Jacoby Jones flashes, but he also came up short of a first down in the waning minutes. The Texans' defense looks markedly improved and definitely competitive, but can it bail out a flagging offense?
6. The Titans received a good wakeup call with the blowout at Pittsburgh in Week Five and then had the bye week to stew on it. One thing that the coaches saw in the tape of the game was that certain players were coasting. That can't happen on a team that is not as talented as other playoff contenders, not with the golden opportunity presented in this strange AFC South race. The search for Kenny Britt's replacement goes on, and the Titans would love nothing more than to have the talented Damien Williams to fill that void, but he has shown he's not always fully focused. Donnie Avery also could pick up some of the receiving slack now that he has had an extra week to soak up the offense. Another point of attention: penalties. It's little stuff, sometimes boring to talk about, but only the Raiders (445), Buccaneers (360) and Lions (337) have more penalty yards than the Titans, and those other teams all have played six games to the Titans' five.
7. Let's put the coaches' squabble to bed, shall we? More important on Jim Schwartz's priority list now is making sure his team doesn't fall into a slump after getting physically beat up a little. Schwartz had a nice answer to what his team faces, coming off the 49ers loss and heading into the game against a Falcons team that bounced back Sunday. "It's been a long time since we've been through that," he said. "This franchise went through a lot of lean years — lean being probably a pretty nice term right there. We've dealt with coming back from losses and things like that and we've dealt with long losing streaks and things like that, but it's been almost eleven months since we had to go into a locker room after a game and not be on the right side of the score. So there is something to that. We need to remember how it feels to lose; we don't need to be losing very often, but you know, maybe there is an edge you can get from that."
8. Happy London game. The Bears and Buccaneers both made this a more smashing matchup by winning their respective games on Sunday. The Bucs arrived in England Monday night; the Bears won't arrive until Friday. The question for the Bears is whether they will keep with their lineup and strategy changes another week. Against the Vikings, they started two new safeties — second-year Major Wright and rookie Chris Conte over Brandon Meriweather and Chris Harris — and played more cover-1 than they did all season. They also received a big contribution from rookie DT Stephen Paea (an early safety on McNabb) and managed their pass protection well by keeping six, seven and, at times, eight blockers home to give more time to QB Jay Cutler. The result: one sack. Seems like a good idea.
9. The Buccaneers showed true grit by beating the Saints a week after getting walloped out west by the 49ers. Sure, the Saints were a little discombobulated following the Sean Payton injury, but that was not the reason they lost. The Bucs toughened up and made plays offensively despite not having LeGarrette Blount. They are a fun team to watch not just because they are young and talented, but we now can add resilient and tough to the list of virtues. "I got a bunch of tough guys on this football team and no matter what happens, anybody may be considered a star," head coach Raheem Morris said. "It's always going to be the next man (up) theory. These guys know how to move on to the next game." For a defense that was without DT Gerald McCoy, the Bucs rose up against the Saints, forcing four turnovers and holding them to 1-for-4 scoring in the red zone. That's the interesting matchup: the Bucs' revived defense against the Bears' reformed offense.
10. The Jets looked somewhat soft early but rallied and put away the Dolphins in a game they had to have, but now they get a truer test of where they are when they face the Chargers in the first game against the team since the monumental upset in the playoffs in early 2010 two seasons ago. The Chargers spent the bye week identifying ways to get to the quarterback, and the Jets actually protected QB Mark Sanchez well against the Dolphins. On the other side of the ball, the Chargers want to crank up a passing game that has been good but not great. And with TE Antonio Gates still very much a long shot to play, you can bet that the Chargers will target a familiar face. Antonio Cromartie, a former Charger, has been the Jets corner that teams have focused on most, and he was quite shaky at times in the Monday night win. The Chargers also must be tight on special teams, which are a big edge on paper to the Jets. Neither team has put its best foot forward, and the playoffs still remain the goal for each. Lot of angles in this game. The loser starts to feel some real sting because of the crowded AFC playoff picture.
11. The NBC cameras are sure to spend a lot of time in the coaches' boxes. There viewers will see two injured principles in this rivalry, the Colts' Peyton Manning and the Saints' Payton, both of whom will be radioing in their wisdom through headseats. The problem for the Colts, assuredly, is that Drew Brees will be receiving Payton's signals and Curtis Painter will be receiving Manning's wisdom. To be fair, Painter has done a fairly remarkable job. He's dealing from a short deck, and it's not like the guy doubles as a safety on the league's 26th-ranked defense or has any reasonable solution for the team's blocking or rushing issues. The Saints, though, could use a good old stomping, and it has to include some kind of defensive dominance, or at least hearty interference. What made the 2009 team so great was not that the defense stoned every team it faced. No, they just made huge, game-changing plays — turnovers, third-down stops and quarterback tattoos. Where have those been since? Strike out against the Colts in this department and we'll start really worrying about the Saints' long-term prognosis as a playoff contender.
12. We probably should have mentioned the Rams more up top as the next in line perhaps forced to make a quarterback switch. (We just couldn't bring ourselves to get too excited about them. Sorry.) Sam Bradford was seen leaving Sunday's loss to the Packers with a walking boot and likely will miss Wednesday's practice, with (gulp) A.J. Feeley taking the snaps in his stead. You'd have to place the early odds on Bradford playing at around 50-50. As for Dallas, it had to be sickening to be Rob Ryan and Tony Romo on that flight home from New England, which was delayed, by the way, as the team sat on the tarmac. Ryan came up with Tom Brady DDT. Romo came back from an early pick, and a bad one, to play an outstanding game. Both men had the game swept out from under them. I wrote in "Shorts and Shells" this week about Jason Garrett running the ball and not letting Romo win it, and Ryan was forced to defend Brady in the two-minute offense in crunch time. You know how it ended. The Cowboys either will take out their frustrations on the beaten-down Rams or they will lay a complete and total egg. If it's the latter, Romo might need to find his closest bomb shelter in which to take up sanctuary.
13. It's a week of rest for three AFC powerhouses, and we don't use that word wantonly. The Bills, Patriots, Bengals are a combined 13-5 and one of those losses came when the Bills topped the Pats in Buffalo. The Bills can't kill themselves for the loss downstate to the Giants, but Ryan Fitzpatrick basically made two bad throws and both were intercepted. The Bengals might actually be a bigger surprise than the Bills, and QB Andy Dalton is looking like a seasoned pro. Newton might be the biggest rookie sensation, but right now Dalton is heading into his bye the bigger winner.
14. In the NFC, the teams on hiatus are the Giants, Eagles and 49ers, all coming in with big victories. Whose was biggest? The Giants stood tall against a quality opponent and shook off a tough loss at home the week before. The Eagles turned in the definition of a had-to-haver against the Redskins and avoided the costly mistakes that have defined them in the process. And the 49ers, in perhaps the game of the weekend, stood toe to toe with the unbeaten Lions in their house, rode the crowd wave early and outlasted them in the end. We'll go with the 49ers for the answer to that question now because of the quality of opponent, though clearly the Eagles lived for another day.
15. If the Ravens travel down to Jacksonville and hammer the Jaguars on "Monday Night Football," does Jack Del Rio lose his job on Tuesday? The odds are shifting his way for the coach most likely to lose his job first, although I am not quite sure what Miami's Tony Sparano has done well to warrant that tide change. The Jaguars are bad, and maybe worse yet, they are irrelevant. With all the talk of Newton and Dalton succeeding as rookies, Blaine Gabbert has been fine (he stood up tall against the Steelers despite taking a pounding) since starting, but the Jaguars are a boring, insignificant team, which is not a good formula for a financially unstable operation. This is their one Monday-night game this season, and it's probably their last for the next few years. The Jaguars need to come up big in the effort department. Else, how do you justify keeping the coach when he has acknowledged that he's feeling the heat?