Here are the latest Whispers we're hearing from our sources throughout the AFC:
• Titans head coach Mike Munchak has shown a steadfast commitment to rookie Jake Locker, who Munchak continues to say will return to the starting lineup once his injured left shoulder is healed — despite backup Matt Hasselbeck engineering consecutive fourth-quarter wins for the club. However, we hear the club could be extra cautious with Locker’s shoulder, perhaps allowing Hasselbeck to remain as the starter for a few more weeks. If the Titans continue to win, it will be interesting to see if Munchak’s tune changes, as there are those in the Titans' locker room who, while remaining committed to Locker, have said off the record that they do not envy the situation Munchak could soon find himself in.
• It has been a tough season for Steelers SS Troy Polamalu, who has had to deal with a calf injury for much of the campaign. He has played just 77 snaps in two games (Weeks One and Five). He has not practiced or played since reaggravating the injury against the Eagles, and the way we hear it, the ailment, which first popped up a season ago, is a serious concern.
• As much as the Chiefs might want to trade Dwayne Bowe, knowing he probably is landing elsewhere as a free agent, a deal isn’t likely for a few reasons. One, another team isn’t likely to trade for Bowe without knowing if he’ll sign a long-term extension, and that lowers the price on what the market will bear. Two, the Chiefs have no other reliable receivers. Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel want to save their jobs, and they will do that by getting better, not worse. Trading Bowe lessens the talent pool.
• The Colts are fortunate that newcomers Vontae Davis (cornerback) and Tom Zbikowski (safety) played their best games of the season in Week Seven, because CB Jerraud Powers continues to look totally out of sorts. The way we hear it, this is the most uneven Powers, who is struggling to adjust to a new scheme, has looked in a Colts uniform. The Browns clearly targeted him in Week Seven, and that likely will continue until he snaps out of his funk.
• Although Jaguars WR Cecil Shorts coughed up the fumble that set up a game-winning field goal in overtime for the Raiders, his bright spots have clearly outweighed his growing pains in his second season. It’s easy to forget what a big jump Shorts had to make in coming from Division III Mount Union to the pros. Word is he has been a much-improved player in Year Two, and he could have a bright future if he continues on this ascent.
• The entire Bills defense has been a disappointment this season, and the corners haven’t helped the cause. Second-year CB Aaron Williams is off to a slow start and nickel CB Justin Rogers struggled late against Titans WR Nate Washington. The secondary may get a boost from rookie Ron Brooks, who is on the short-term injured reserve list. Brooks was buried in a talented LSU secondary in college and while he likely would get his start on special teams, the Bills are looking for a corner to step up.
• One benefit for the Broncos in their win over the Chargers in Week Six, we hear, is they got a chance to see how athletic CB Tony Carter could be in Tracy Porter’s absence. Nickel corner Chris Harris also continues to play well, giving Denver good depth at corner, a position that needed to improve after last season.
• CB Ras-I Dowling’s disappointing start to his NFL career continued this week when the Patriots placed him on injured reserve for the second year in a row. Coming out of college, Dowling’s biggest red flag was his durability. He dealt with hamstring, knee and ankle injuries in college, and the Patriots will have to think long and hard about his long-term future. If Alfonzo Dennard and Sterling Moore pick up their play in Dowling’s absence, he will have a tough time making the roster next year — even though he was a high draft pick that the Patriots valued highly and plays a position that lacks a starter to complement Devin McCourty. One thing to consider, though, is the recent improvement of DE Jermaine Cunningham, who was written off by many after a disappointing sophomore season but impressed Bill Belichick greatly this past offseason and has been a steady contributor.
• With improved play has come more leadership from Browns QB Brandon Weeden, according to head coach Pat Shurmur, who said the two factors are related. “I’ve seen him exert himself more beyond just playing quarterback in the last month, but you can’t do that until you kind of know what you’re doing playing your position,” Shurmur told reporters leading up to Week Eight.
• The Bengals have some uncertainty at the starting spot opposite of WR A.J. Green. Armon Binns has struggled after a solid start and missed the Week Seven loss vs. Pittsburgh with an ankle injury. Rookie Marvin Jones, who was going to regularly play vs. the Steelers, was lost less than five minutes into the game with a knee injury. He’s still a player to watch. Rookie Mohamed Sanu, who recorded the first three catches of his NFL career against Pittsburgh, is another potential option opposite of Green. Brandon Tate got the start for Binns in Week Seven, but he played just nine offensive snaps, and Binns took the starting job from him earlier this season. Second-year pro Ryan Whalen saw extended action in Week Seven, but the way we hear it, he’s probably not a viable long-term option for the job.