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Week 8: Who leads for Luck?
The players involved may not appreciate the “Suck for Luck” campaigns, but there is no questioning the impact of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck in either Miami or Indianapolis next season. Yes, the Rams are still winless, but even they, considering their location in the NFC West, figure to win enough games to drop to third or fourth in next year’s draft.
The Dolphins and Colts look to be in a fight to the bitter end, and as the losses mount so does the likelihood of both head coaches Tony Sparano and Jim Caldwell respectively being unemployed sooner rather than later.
The Dolphins also appear to have the edge if they want to lose out. Right now, they don’t play a team with a losing record in their final 10 games. But the Colts do, with two remaining games against 2-5 Jacksonville.
For the Dolphins, the former teams of QB greats Dan Marino and Bob Griese, getting the draft rights to Luck would excite the fan base. Owner Steven Ross has denied multiple reports this week that he has reached out to former Steelers coach and CBS analyst Bill Cowher, but everyone in the league knows Ross must do something dramatic to boost the fortunes of his franchise.
It just goes to figure, too, that Luck or his father, Oliver, might want a say in the next head coach, too. This is where Jon Gruden enters the scene. Wouldn’t Gruden be great coaching a talented new quarterback?
And Cowher probably wouldn’t be interested in Miami if they don’t land Luck. The former coach is smart enough to know he can’t win with probably the fourth-best quarterback — either Dolphins passers Chad Henne or Matt Moore — in the AFC East.
To boost attendance for last week’s home game, Ross had a Tim Tebow-Florida Gator celebration. That’s how dire things are in South Florida. Once a glamour franchise in the NFL, the Dolphins have fallen on tough times. I bet even Ross has misgivings about spending way too much to buy this team. He overpaid Wayne Huizenga because he simply wanted to get into the NFL fraternity.
But to make the Dolphins work for the long haul, they need Luck and a headliner as a head coach.
The situation, though, is much different in Indianapolis, where Peyton Manning continues to rehab from his neck surgery. No one believes that Bill Polian and Jimmy Irsay would pass on Luck if given the opportunity. However, what would be their next move?
If Manning can play next season, would they keep or trade him? Would anybody want a 36-year-old quarterback earning $23 million a season, or basically what Luck will earn over four seasons under the NFL’s new rookie wage scale?
Some have suggested that the Colts will do whatever Manning wants them to do, but I don’t think so. His health is too fragile right now and the Colts, much like the Dolphins, owe it to their fan base to select Luck even if it means he sits and watches behind Manning for one season.
Yes, the Colts may need more players than a quarterback. Then, again, we all know how valuable that position is in the NFL.
NFL ON FOX GAMES
Detroit at Denver, 4:05 p.m. ET
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Lions were a poor tackling team in their two losses (20 missed tackles) and must improve. Head coach Jim Schwartz also wants his defensive front four to dictate to Broncos QB Tim Tebow. Look for LB Stephen Tulloch to spy Tebow, who is always a threat to run. The strategy worked well against Josh Freeman and Donovan McNabb this season, but Tebow is much quicker and a stronger runner than those two. With Broncos RB Willis McGahee out (broken hand), Knowshon Moreno will start for the Broncos.
QB Matthew Stafford will start for the Lions and you can expect him to stay in the pocket more this week. Ten-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey will draw the assignment on Lions WR Calvin Johnson, and Bailey has already admitted that one man can’t stop him one-on-one. There should be two interesting line battles: Broncos guard Chris Kuper vs. Ndamukong Suh and Lions tackle Gosder Cherilus vs. pass-rushing rookie Von Miller, who has six sacks on the season.
CZAR’S SCOOP: Although he is torn about his future as an NFL starter, Broncos team president John Elway told coach John Fox that it was time to start Tebow because Kyle Orton was too inconsistent to keep the job. Also, the fans wanted to see Tebow, plus the organization must find out this season whether or not Tebow is worth building the offense around in the future.
The Broncos' loss of McGahee comes at a bad time for Denver. The Lions rank 28th in the league vs. the run — much of that courtesy of Frank Gore and Michael Turner in recent weeks — and McGahee provided the same type of strong, inside-the-tackles running style. But Moreno and Lance Ball aren’t quite as physical and prefer to float outside.
Broncos SS Brian Dawkins at age 38 last week became the oldest defensive back in NFL history to have two sacks in a game.
Washington vs. Buffalo (in Toronto), 4:05 p.m. ET
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The key to the game figures how well Buffalo’s offensive line handles the Redskins’ pass rush (21 sacks), especially Brian Orakpo and rookie Ryan Kerrigan. The Redskins also have the inside defenders to check Bills RB Fred Jackson. A key matchup will be CB DeAngelo Hall against Bills WR Stevie Johnson, who appears to be over his groin strain. If Ryan Fitzpatrick can buy some time, the Bills believe they can hit some deep throws on the outside.
The Bills would rather be playing in Orchard Park because they realize that they will be losing the home-field advantage in the Rogers Centre. However, they are catching the Redskins minus quite a few offensive stars in WR Santana Moss and TE Chris Cooley, RB Tim Hightower and a couple key starting offensive linemen. Redskins QB John Beck had a solid game in his first start, but he needs more help from WR Jabar Gaffney and TE Fred Davis. Buffalo’s defense is minus Pro Bowl NT Kyle Williams, who is suffering from bone spurs. The club is hoping they don’t have to place him on injured reserve.
Bills OLB Shawne Merriman was a gamble from the beginning and now he’s lost for the season, and so is the $6.95 million he’s been paid by the team. Buffalo also may owe him $3 million next season depending on the legal interpretation of an injury exception clause. Merriman came to the Bills off an Achilles injury, but claims this is a new Achilles tendon strain and not associated with his prior injury. Before going on IR, Merriman had one of Buffalo’s league-low four sacks.
Fitzpatrick, who had a base salary of $3.22 million this year, will receive $24 million in guaranteed money over the next six seasons in his new contract. His average is just above $9 million a season. Fitzpatrick reportedly scored 48 out of 50 on the Wonderlic intelligence test that is given to incoming rookies at the scouting combine. The highest all-time score of 49 is held by another Harvard graduate, former Bengals punter Pat McInally. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said he’s been “impressed with how Fitzpatrick handles himself. You listen to a few of his interviews, and it seems like he’s got everything that you want in a quarterback. He’s just a natural leader."
OTHER SUNDAY GAMES
New England at Pittsburgh, 4:15 p.m. ET: The Patriots shoot for their fifth win in Heinz Field, something no other visitor has accomplished. In their four wins, Tom Brady has completed 70.9 percent of his attempts while throwing for nine TDs against one interception. Look for Brady to again spread the Pittsburgh defense and take advantage of matchup issues using both of his talented tight ends. Pittsburgh must get an inside pass-rush push in order to knock Brady off his game. On the flip side, New England’s defense is ranked last in the NFL, having allowed 40 plays of 20 yards or more.
Cleveland at San Francisco, 4:15 p.m. ET: Hard to believe, but 49ers QB Alex Smith is 5-1 in his last six starts at home, passing for 1,200 yards and 12 TDs against one interception. The Browns barely beat the Seahawks last Sunday, have been struggling on offense and won’t have RB Peyton Hillis, who tweaked his hamstring in practice. The 49ers are coming off a bye and that infamous Jim Harbaugh-Jim Schwartz non-handshake. The 49ers have averaged 193 yards rushing during their last three wins and Frank Gore has a chance to move ahead of Roger Craig on the team’s all-time list. Two big keys to the San Francisco defense have been CB Carlos Rogers and Dashon Goldson. Rogers, who signed a one-year deal, is already asking for a long-term contract.
Cincinnati at Seattle, 4:15 p.m. ET: Although it will be a game-time decision, the Seahawks believe QB Tarvaris Jackson (pectoral muscle) will start. This is good news for the offense that also gets TE Zach Miller back and guard Max Unger. The Bengals seek their fourth consecutive win, but will have to manage minus RB Cedric Benson, who lost his league appeal on a one-game suspension. Seattle is still fuming about having Leon Washington’s 81-yard punt return wiped out last week for a questionable block in the back. Rookie QB Andy Dalton has had a 100.0 rating or higher in three of his six starts. But the key to the Bengals is a defense that rotates eight defensive linemen.
Dallas at Philadelphia, 8:20 p.m. ET: The Cowboys, who have won four of the last five games in the series, have discovered a running game with rookie DeMarco Murray, who set a club record with 253 rushing yards last Sunday against the winless Rams. The Eagles, in their wide-nine defensive front, have struggled against the run for much of the season. Let’s see if they are willing once again to bring their pass rushers in a gap or two, thus clogging the middle like they did against the Redskins. Dallas feels good about its three cornerbacks in coverage against Michael Vick’s quick-strike ability. Cowboys LB Sean Lee must spy Eagles RB LeSean McCoy and keep him from breaking long gains off the bubble screen. In order to active LB Bruce Carter, a second-round pick, the Cowboys released RB Tashard Choice.