Our sources around the NFC are hearing the following whispers:
• Our Seahawks sources are in agreement that FB/special-teams ace Michael Robinson might have had the best game of his career in the Week 10 upset of the Ravens. "He was told he was going to have to handle (Ravens star LB) Ray Lewis, and he did an unbelievable job," one team insider told PFW. "If that wasn't enough, on the two key forced fumbles by the special teams, he forced the first one himself and made the initial block that allowed Malcolm Smith to force the second one."
• After a pretty shaky start, it appears Dave Zastudil has settled in nicely as the Cardinals' punter. "He's been very steady lately," said one daily team observer of the former Browns punter. "When the team first got him, I think he might have still been feeling the effects of the knee injury that had kept him out for more than a year. He is starting to flip field position, and with LaRod Stephens-Howling and Michael Adams on the outside as gunners, that's become a real good combination."
• Rams defensive coordinator Ken Flajole didn't hide his disappointment over losing CB Al Harris for the season with a knee injury in Week 10. "It's tough every time we lose one of those guys," Flajole said. "Al, he's such a great veteran leader for us, such a positive guy. I think he's one of those guys in the meeting rooms that show the young guys how to prepare. ... It's always going to be tough when you lose a guy like that, but injuries are part of our game. We understand that, we know that. And the next guy is going to have to stand up and be ready to contribute."
• With such a short time frame before the Niners' game vs. the Ravens and team insiders telling us featured back Frank Gore is at less-than-full strength no matter what he might say, we hear it would hardly be a shock if third-string RB Anthony Dixon sees a surprising amount of playing time in Baltimore Thanksgiving evening.
• One reason Giants WR Victor Cruz has had such a successful first season of starting is that he has been able to beat press coverage consistently. It's rare for a young receiver — and not an especially large one at that — to be that savvy when it comes to fighting through the jam.
• Redskins ILB Perry Riley showed some good playmaking ability in his first start, in Week 10 against the Dolphins, with four tackles for losses, but it was found that he also made more mistakes once the coaches graded out the tape. Still, the team is very high on Riley, who replaced Rocky McIntosh. If Riley continues to make plays, the team could let McIntosh go in the offseason.
• The Eagles would like to get WR Riley Cooper more offensive opportunities, but he has been caught in a numbers game at receiver. The addition of Steve Smith has not panned out; he has been returning slowly to top form from his knee injury and has shown a few uncharacteristic mental lapses. Cooper is the tallest receiver on the roster and was starting to earn a bigger role at the end of last season.
• The Cowboys have not written off Felix Jones, not in the least. He might have lost his starting RB job to rookie DeMarco Murray, but there are different ways the team wants to use Jones, including on kickoff returns, as a receiver, as a nickel runner and also in the same backfield as Murray. Although Jones' overall workload will be reduced, he still will get his touches.
• Add deep receiver to the list of needs the Vikings will seek to fill in the offseason. They have tried to use Devin Aromashodu in that role, but he's not suited for it. Neither is Percy Harvin, who does his best work underneath. It's not to say that the team regrets cutting Bernard Berrian. It does not; he was a locker-room cancer. But if the team wants Christian Ponder to succeed and the offense to take further steps next season, it will have to add a dose of vertical speed.
• It stands to reason that needy teams around the league are going to have an interest in raiding the Packers' finely tuned coaching staff at season's end. But offensive coordinator Joe Philbin effectively extinguished the widely circulated rumor that he was in line for the head-coaching job at Tulane University, telling team sources that he had never been actually contacted by Tulane and had no interest in leaving Green Bay any time soon.
• It appears there is finally a specific target date for Packers veteran OLT Chad Clifton's return from the significant hamstring injury that has had him on the shelf since Week Six — the Dec. 4 game vs. the Giants in the Meadowlands. Clifton's future in Green Bay beyond this season, however, is cloudy at best, with the consensus being that 2011 first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod and Marshall Newhouse, who is currently replacing Clifton, will be battling for the starting OLT job in 2012.
• Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham admires the play — and tenacity — of reserve CB Aaron Berry, who has defended eight passes this season. Said Cunningham: "(He) is really aggressive. He is what, 5-9½ and about 180 pounds? He took (Bears WR) Roy Williams to the cleaners. ... He was all over him, and we have to be careful. The thing you don't want to do, probably, is match him up with (Panthers WR) Steve Smith. That wouldn't last very long. Those two guys going against each other, I would pay to see it, but I wouldn't want to coach it. Not those two guys. They wouldn't last five minutes in the game, I'm sure."
• The heat is rising on head coach Raheem Morris, with the Buccaneers stuck in a three-game losing streak, and the team's skid has led to some speculation about what his future holds if the Bucs don't get back on track in the remaining seven games. The Bucs picked up the two-year option, which runs through 2012, on Morris' contract in the offseason. Although coaches typically want to avoid the perception of being a lame duck and have a commitment from ownership beyond the season at hand, Morris coached last season as a lame duck, and he and ownership could be comfortable deciding to enter 2012 in the same situation.
• Only three teams have fewer sacks than the Falcons (15) this season. The lack of production is a huge letdown, given the expectations that were created after DE Ray Edwards was signed in the offseason to play opposite three-time All-Pro John Abraham. The primary backup at defensive end, Kroy Biermann, brings energy off the bench, but he has only one sack. The No. 4 D-end in the rotation, Lawrence Sidbury, is waiting in the wings, and giving him more playing time is an option the team may consider. There are concerns about how Sidbury will hold up vs. the run, but he's pushing to cut into Biermann's snaps.
• The Panthers would love to play spoiler to a few teams' playoff hopes in the remaining portion of the season, but part of the focus in the final seven weeks will be on giving some players who are low on the depth chart more snaps to see where, or whether, they fit into the team's plans heading into the offseason. It doesn't appear that WR Brandon LaFell falls into that category of players, though. LaFell is a promising second-year player who could be in the running for a starting job next year, but there's a significant contingent of fans who would like to see him starting right now ahead of WR Legedu Naanee. We hear the coaching staff is satisfied with Naanee's performance and very happy with what he brings as far as knowledge of the offense.