Here are some whispers our sources from around the NFC have been hearing:
• Vikings RB Toby Gerhart still needs to show he can be a lead back in the absence of Adrian Peterson. Although Gerhart has a handful of explosive runs and receptions in his two pro seasons, he has yet to show the kind of consistency to make the team think he can be a complement to or a one- or two-game replacement for Peterson without the level of play dropping off significantly. Most concerning, Gerhart has been stopped short twice this season on 4th-and-short situations and is a very limited contributor on special teams.
• In a recent interview with PFW, Lions WR coach Shawn Jefferson said rookie WR Titus Young's explosiveness and eye-hand coordination are among his most impressive attributes. Jefferson marveled at Young's ability to handle QB Matthew Stafford's hard-thrown passes.
• It turns out that the recent setback we heard Packers veteran OLT Chad Clifton had experienced was a back injury to go along with the hamstring injury that has sidelined him since Week Six. Heading into December, the 35-year-old Clifton's availability for this season is looking increasingly iffy.
• The agent for Packers safeties coach Darren Perry, Chris Turnage, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that his client would have a definite interest in the Penn State head-coaching job if Perry's alma mater expressed an interest in interviewing him.
• He might not fit the "Dream Team" profile, but Colt Anderson's season-ending ACL injury was another shot to the gut of the Eagles. The special-teams star was a huge contributor to the coverage and return units and had been having a terrific season. His hustle frequently had been mentioned by coaches in the meeting rooms as an example of the kind of play the Eagles expected this season. Too bad it didn't rub off on the rest of the players.
• The feeling is that Redskins NT Barry Cofield will have a far greater impact in his second season with the team. Although his play this season has not been bad, there has been an adjustment to Jim Haslett's 3-4 defense and the tricky NT spot he plays. Our sources say that his line of vision has changed in this system and that he still doesn't always trust what he sees, but the physical aspect is not a problem and he still has made his share of plays.
• It's a big few weeks for Mathias Kiwanuka, who has grown into his hybrid LB-DE role but could see more snaps in a three-point stance with Osi Umenyiora injured. There have been rumors (for years, really) about the future of Umenyiora in New York, and Kiwanuka could be a potential replacement at defensive end beyond this season.
• Right now the plan is to have Stephen McGee serve as Tony Romo's backup in Dallas, with concerns rising over Jon Kitna's back. Although the Cowboys put in a waiver claim for Kyle Orton and have been linked to other free-agent quarterbacks, the word is that McGee would be the man if Romo went down, and the team wants it that way.
• The Saints' defense hasn't missed a beat with MLB Jonathan Vilma out while recovering from knee surgery, and Jo-Lonn Dunbar's performance has played a big role in its success. Dunbar entered the season as Vilma's backup in the middle, but he became the starter on the strong side in Week Two and then moved back to the middle, the position he's most comfortable in, upon the loss of Vilma, who hasn't played since Week Eight. Dunbar has earned two game balls this season, and we hear the recognition has him playing with confidence.
• Falcons OLT Sam Baker is still recovering from back surgery and has been limited in practice, but he was healthy enough to be activated in Week 12 after missing the previous four games. He didn't start, though. It was the first time he played in a game but didn't start since his rookie year (2008). Baker, a first-round pick, is working to get back to 100 percent, but we hear Will Svitek, who has played well since replacing Baker at left tackle, has a firm grasp on the starting job.
• Buccaneers rookie MLB Mason Foster appears to be wearing down. Foster, a third-round pick, won a starting job in training camp and has started each of the past 10 games. He has shown great promise but has been nagged by injuries to both ankles for much of the season and may be hitting the rookie wall.
• Our sources in St. Louis aren't putting much stock in the recently circulated rumor that new Jaguars owner and one-time prospective Rams owner Shahid Khan would move the Jaguars to St. Louis, with current owner Stan Kroenke simultaneously moving the Rams back to Los Angeles. "That's ultimate fantasy football stuff," said one team source. "For one thing, (commissioner) Roger Goodell was instrumental in getting a team in Jacksonville, and a move away from there would reflect poorly on that involvement." However, the source agreed that, as long as Kroenke goes out of his way to remain silent on all things Rams, rumors like this one will continue to linger.
• Our Niners sources haven't heard much at all lately about how seriously the team might be thinking about re-signing QB Alex Smith, who is working on a one-year contract. "I think everybody right now is completely focused on making the playoffs," said one daily team observer. "I bet that if (owner) Jed York or (GM) Trent Baalke went to (Jim) Harbaugh's office to ask him if the team should re-sign Alex Smith, they'd be shown the door in a hurry."
• Should ex-Ravens TE Todd Heap, a local product who came to Arizona with high expectations, be considered a disappointment? "He has to be," said one team insider. "Just when it looked like he was starting to get his act together with a couple of decent games (Weeks Three and Four), he hurt his hamstring and has been a nonfactor since then. At the age of 31, you really have to wonder if he is starting to break down."