Updated 1:57 p.m. ET on Sunday, Dec. 11
Here are some whispers we've been hearing from our sources around the AFC:
• According to a source, some veterans were skeptical of Raiders head coach Hue Jackson's decision to allow MLB Rolando McClain to play in Week 13 against the Dolphins. McClain had missed the entire week of practice leading up to the game, as he was away from the team while attending his grandfather's funeral. While away, the second-year pro was also arrested on assault and weapons charges. Though McClain led the team in tackles in that game vs. Miami, the rest of the defense didn't play well, and the source states that Jackson's credibility in the locker room among veterans took a hit by not sitting the linebacker following his off-field issues.
• If injuries force Broncos starting RB Willis McGahee out of the lineup at any point in the season, the team feels comfortable with backup Lance Ball. Though not the explosive runner McGahee is, Ball is a solid all-around back who can run, catch and block. An insider said the backup runner "can do what the team needs him to do, but not much more."
• The Kyle Orton experiment didn't start off well, as the veteran quarterback hurt his hand on his first play as a Chief. However, we hear that when he returns to health, Orton is expected to be in the starting lineup for K.C. Current first-stringer Tyler Palko has been subpar, and the team would like to get some production out of Orton after claiming him off waivers from the Broncos.
• The Chargers' offensive line has been a mess this season because of injuries, but it's expected that the same five Week One starters from 2011 will be in the lineup when the 2012 season rolls around. If there is a change, we hear it's ORG Louis Vasquez who will be moving on. He has been inconsistent during his time as a starter, and the team feels it may be able to upgrade the position in free agency or the draft.
• The Dolphins are continuing their midseason turnaround, and we hear that the attitude in the locker room has not changed since the beginning of the season — they are loose and even arrogant. The players are fighting for Tony Sparano and have been playing inspired football since an 0-7 start.
• The Bills' biggest draft pick, Mike Jasper, has been one of the constants on the team's practice squad this season. The Bills moved Jasper from nose tackle to offensive lineman, because they believed he could earn playing time more quickly that way, we hear. However, Jasper has still gotten reps in practice on defense for the scout team, depending on the scheme of the Bills' next opponent.
• Jets OLB Aaron Maybin pointed to veteran LBs Calvin Pace and Bart Scott as big reasons for his success. "I look to them as an example of how to be a pro and how to handle yourself on this team," Maybin told PFW. "Most of the times when you see me get a sack, it's because Calvin Pace is handling his business on the other side and taking the attention off me. They've allowed me to be successful."
• Patriots WR Matthew Slater was the latest wrinkle Bill Belichick threw into his secondary when Slater started at safety in Week 13. We heard that was not likely to happen again, at least in such a prominent fashion, but after cutting undrafted DB Sterling Moore, Slater started again in Week 14. The team likes the speed he brings to the defensive backfield.
• Browns RB Peyton Hillis got the start on Thursday night at Pittsburgh, but he had one fewer carry than backup Montario Hardesty (11 attempts). Said Browns head coach Pat Shurmur the day after the game: "Peyton's our starter. We've just got to find a way to spell him. I don't think any of them at this point can go the whole game. That's where we'll be."
• The way we hear it, Ravens RB Ricky Williams has fit in well as the top backup to Ray Rice. The 34-year-old Williams has received double-digit carries just three times this season but has racked up better than four yards per carry in each instance. It's possible Williams could get more work down the stretch if the Ravens emphasize the run as they did in the Week 13 victory at Cleveland, but Rice, of course, will get the bulk of the work.
• Ravens rookie CB Jimmy Smith has shown impressive potential, and he has played more down the stretch, intercepting passes in wins vs. Cincinnati and at Cleveland. With Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams proving a solid starting CB tandem, Baltimore's depth and playmaking ability at the position are more strengths than in past seasons. However, although Smith is talented, he is still developing. Bengals WR Andre Caldwell beat him for a 49-yard TD in Week 11.
• Could the Jaguars select another quarterback next April just one year after drafting Blaine Gabbert, who has clearly shown he was not ready to be the starter this season? The way we hear it, GM Gene Smith would not hesitate to select someone like, say, USC QB Matt Barkley, if Barkley is the best available player when the Jaguars are on the clock.
• With a higher-than-usual number of head-coaching positions expected to open after the season, and Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips continuing to work his magic in Houston, it would not be surprising to see him garner interest from a few clubs, the way we hear it. Although Phillips, 64, is getting up there in years and said before the season he didn't think he would get another opportunity, the remarkable job he has done with the Texans will be hard to ignore. Word is Phillips still has the desire to lead a team again. A raise from the Texans this offseason could be in the offing to try to persuade him to stay.
• Colts QB Dan Orlovsky played very well in his first start, nearly bringing Indianapolis all the way back from a 31-3 deficit against the Patriots. Orlovsky looked much more comfortable going through his progressions and distributing the ball to a number of his receivers than Curtis Painter had. Which begs the question: Why did the Colts stick with Painter as long as they did?
• After being hired, Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer gushed about the downfield playmaking ability of TE Jared Cook. Cook, however, has been quiet this season, failing to record more than five catches or 51 receiving yards in any game this season. Still, Palmer has been very protective of Cook when discussing his tight end with the media. We hear that Cook's inconsistency issues are partly because he's not always on the same page with QB Matt Hasselbeck. It is safe to say the Titans were expecting more from Cook by now, after having traded up to select him in the third round of the 2009 draft.