That story will dominate the news this week — and we lead with it here — but there are plenty of other developments to keep an eye on as the 2009 season reaches the quarter-pole.
Here are the 5 stories to watch this week.
1. Favre/Minnesota vs. the Packers
The atmosphere will be more emotionally charged atmosphere on November 1 when Brett Favre re-enters Lambeau Field clad in purple. But that doesn’t mean that this week’s game in Minnesota won’t be loaded with emotion. Especially with Favre submitting his greatest piece of evidence of Green Bay’s perceived error on Sunday when he stunned the 49ers at the buzzer.
While the Packers may not have personal dislike for Favre, they will no doubt be very motivated to prove they’re just fine without him. And the Vikings, especially after Sunday, have Favre to thank for the fact they’re still unbeaten. They will have added motivation this week to help Favre achieve that which he denies wanting to achieve — a measure of revenge against the Green Bay braintrust of GM Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy.
Aside from the off-field drama, the actual stuff that has to do with football won’t center on Favre but on his successor, Aaron Rodgers. Through three games he’s been sacked 12 times. There’s upheaval along the Green Bay defensive line and the focus on that group and the Vikings pass rushers — notably Jared Allen — will be a developing storyline as we head toward Monday night.
2. Beware the angry T.O.
So far, the NFL’s narcissistic Krakatoa in Western New York hasn’t really begun to rumble. But the five catches for 98 yards and one touchdown that Terrell Owens has amassed through three games amounts to a good half’s work for T.O. in past years. On Sunday against the Saints, he had five balls thrown his way by Bills quarterback Trent Edwards.
That was the first time since Owens’ rookie season that he was held without a catch, a span of 185 games. Of all the possible scenarios designed to test Owens’ patience, his being an utter non-factor would be the most trying for him. So far, he’s kept his lip dutifully buttoned. “Just going with the plays that are called. Whether I like them or don't, I'm just going with the plays that are called,” he said after the Bills offense was held without a touchdown on Sunday.
Whether Owens can remain so stoic or if he starts to ooze a little verbal lava heading into this week’s game with the Dolphins will be fascinating.
3. An unbeaten show to behold
The only matchup of unbeatens this week will be between the Jets and the Saints down in the Superdome. Neither of these teams made the playoffs last year, though the Jets did begin the season 8-3 before taking a nosedive down the stretch.
The Saints are going to face a very, very legitimate test with the Jets defense. Through three games, New Orleans has converted 49 percent of its third downs, quarterback Drew Brees has completed 69 percent of his passes and they’ve only allowed four sacks.
The Jets, meanwhile, are only allowing third down conversions 30 percent of the time and opposing quarterbacks are completing just 49 percent of their passes. Both teams are coming off games in which they won a little bit ugly, New Orleans over Buffalo and the Jets over Tennessee. Even though, in the long run, the result here won’t matter nearly as much as a divisional or conference game would, this is the most intriguing game of the week.
4. Who's the best of the worst?
There are six winless teams in action this week. Cleveland, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Miami, Tennessee and St. Louis. The Panthers get a bye which may not exactly be a welcome reprieve after their loss to Dallas on Monday night. And when you throw in early ugliness from the one-win Redskins and Raiders and you have nine NFL cities where the venom is starting to flow at a pretty good clip.
Between the Browns, Bucs, Raiders and Redskins, it’s hard to figure which franchise looks the worst.
Miami, Carolina and Tennessee all have to be stunned — STUNNED — to be in this position. All were playoff teams last year. Miami figures to be in worse shape this week than the Titans since Chad Pennington is done for the year and a much lesser Chad (Henne) will take over. Tennessee is at Jacksonville. Not a layup but doable. Still, the navel-gazing these teams will engage in all week as they try to find an escape hatch from a hellish September will be at a high.
5. And who's the best of the best?
I believe the Ravens have been the best team in football through the season’s first three weeks. They are certainly the most complete. You can quibble with the fact that two of their wins came over the Chiefs and Browns — a combined 0-6 — and that their league-leading rush-defense numbers (51 yards allowed per game) are aided by the fact those teams can’t run the football.
But their win in San Diego is a trump card in their defense. This week, they have another chance to make a bold statement.
They visit New England. Tom Brady still isn’t right in terms of accuracy. I don’t think it has to do with his knee, but simply timing and repetitions at game speed. Sunday against the Falcons, Fred Taylor helped keep the heat off Brady by turning in one of the best games by a Patriots back in some time. Will Taylor be able to run with the same effectiveness against a Ravens defense that’s been throwing a blanket over opposing running games and beating them senseless with shovels? That’s the big storyline coming out of AFC battle.
PFT: Tom Brady says the loss of Wes Welker didn’t come as a surprise because Brady has been around long enough to know that there are no safe jobs in the NFL.
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