The Giants, No. 4, interims, the Giants and much more in this week's debate.
Athlon's Steven Lassan, Nathan Rush and Braden Gall debate five burning questions for Week 16 in the NFL:
1. What is your favorite Brett Favre moment?
Steven Lassan: Say what you want about Favre’s penchant for drama, but he’s going to be missed on the field next season. There are several moments or games that come to mind, but I’ll mention three of them – the Monday night game after his father passed away, the Super Bowl win over New England and the Monday night touchdown toss to Greg Jennings to beat Denver in 2007. It’s impossible to pick a favorite out of that group, but it’s hard to beat winning a Super Bowl.
Braden Gall: Wow, how can you ask a Packer fan to narrow it down to one? Monday night against the Raiders after his father died? Throwing touchdown No. 421 to Greg Jennings in the Metrodome of all places. Countless showdowns with the games best of all-time: Elway, Manning, Aikman, Brady etc. How about Week 3 of the 1992 season where he entered the game trailing the Bengals and proceeded to lead the Packers on a unbelievable comeback — and then didn't miss a start until 321 games later? But for any Packer fan, watching him run around the Superdome turf pumping the helmet into the air after checking to 59 Razor and throwing a 54-yard TD bomb to Andre Rison to start Super Bowl XXXI is the single most indelible image.
Nathan Rush: I’d like to think there is at least one more Brett Favre moment yet to come. I want Favre to retire again after the season, then show up Week 1 of 2011 ready to play. But if this is the end of the road, I’ll go with a recent memory as my favorite. Last season, Favre threw a 32-yard game-winning TD pass to Greg Lewis with two seconds left to beat the 49ers. The catch was incredible, but it was the type of throw that only Favre could make. And to see him do it as a 40-year-old MVP candidate made the play even more impressive. Still, Favre’s career has been one long highlight; talking about No. 4 as if he’s gone makes me miss him already.
2. Which interim coach has performed the best and which is most likely to retain his job?
Steven: I think Leslie Frazier at Minnesota and Jason Garrett of Dallas both stand a good chance to retain the full-time spot next year, but Garrett has done a better job this season. The Cowboys looked lifeless after a loss to Green Bay, and despite losing Tony Romo, have managed to crawl back to respectable football. Since Garrett got the job, the Cowboys are 4-2, with both losses coming by three points. With Arizona up next, the Cowboys should finish the year with six wins and some momentum going into 2011. Denver interim coach Eric Studesville assumed the head coach role at a difficult time, and he’s highly unlikely to return in 2011.
Braden: Jason Garrett seems to have lit a fire under his very talented but malaised group of Cowboys. The new CBA discussions have created interesting situations for owners and new head coaches. With so much uncertainty swirling around the future, it will be tough for franchises to justify spending the major dollars for a coach (Bill Cowher for example). The interims then get a clear inside track on the job. Garrett and Leslie Frazier could very easily retain their current positions.
Nathan: Jason Garrett has gone 4–2 since taking over the Cowboys in Week 10. I think he’s a lock to be back in Dallas next season, and deservedly so. Wade Phillips went 1–7 with one of the more talented rosters in the league; Garrett has shown the ability to at least put a respectable product on the $1.1 billion field at Jerry’s House.
3. Who will be the starting quarterback for the Redskins next fall?
Steven: If the Redskins think Rex Grossman or John Beck is a better quarterback than Donovan McNabb, they are crazy. I’m going to guess the starting quarterback for the Redskins will be someone who isn’t on the roster right now. Maybe it’s a rookie, someone acquired via trade (Kevin Kolb?) or a veteran like Marc Bulger to bridge the gap, but the Redskins can’t go into next year with Grossman or Beck as the answer to the quarterback issues. If the Redskins can’t get Bulger or someone similar (Kerry Collins?), I wouldn’t be shocked if Grossman stays the starter, but that’s a recipe for another mediocre season.
Braden: Isn't it funny that Dan Snyder and Mike Shannahan would probably kill for someone like, I don't know, Jason Campbell right now? There is clearly a personality conflict in D.C. because Rex Grossman isn't a better quarterback than Donovan McNabb, so my guess is McNabb will be cut. So it will most likely be a new face. That could be via trade/free agency with a name like Kevin Kolb (the irony). It could also be through the draft with guys like Ryan Mallett or Jake Locker. The Arkansas signal-caller should be still on the board in the 6-10 range of the draft and is clearly the No. 2 option behind Stanford's Andrew Luck.
Nathan: Ryan Mallett? Maybe Jake Locker? Do I hear a Cam Newton? What’s that about Terrelle Pryor being suspended the first five games of Ohio State’s 2011 season? Go ahead and add him to the list of potential rookie starters in Washington. The five-win Skins are one of 12 teams who can count their victories on one hand, so they should be in position to take whoever Mike Shanahan wants as his franchise quarterback. The question is, where will Donovan McNabb be in 2011?
4. Will the devastating loss to the Eagles affect the Giants' Super Bowl chances?
Steven: Tom Coughlin should have the Giants ready to play this week in Green Bay, but I think it will be difficult to recover from the loss to Philadelphia. Had the Giants lost in a different manner, I don’t think there would be any question about how this team would respond. However, with the comeback and giving up a game-winning punt return for a touchdown as time expired, you have to wonder if the Giants will have anything left this week. I like the Packers to beat the Giants on Sunday, which will only add to the misery in New York and put a serious dent in the playoff hopes.
Braden: If there is a coach in the NFL who could totally ignore one of the worst losses in NFL history and stay focused on the game at hand its Tom Coughlin. That being said, the Giants lost the division, a chance at a first-round bye and probably a home playoff game in one of the biggest choke jobs I have ever seen in this league. The Miracle at the New Meadowlands could have very easily cost the Giants any hope of making a deep playoff run. And if they lose this weekend in Green Bay, they might not even make the postseason.
Nathan: A devastating loss to the Packers this weekend will almost certainly end any Super Bowl chances for the Giants. But the G-Men should be able to bounce back from the “welcome to the NFL” moment that rookie punter Matt Dodge received from Eagles return man extraordinaire DeSean Jackson, by way of a 65-yard walk-off TD last week. As Bucs coach Raheem Morris would say, that was a “gut punch” not a “death blow.” However, if New York spirals downward from here, that loss (and that last play) will be the moment everyone points to.
5. Who is the Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL?
Steven: Even though he might not play another game in the regular season, I’d vote Troy Polamalu of Pittsburgh. The Steelers are a good defense when Polamalu is sidelined, but his presence brings it to an elite level. When the Steelers need a game-changing play, Polamalu always seems to deliver, as evidenced by his interception return for a touchdown against Cincinnati. If the Steelers want to earn Super Bowl No. 7, Polamalu has to be healthy and in the form that makes him one of the NFL’s best defenders.
Braden: Green Bay's Clay Matthews, New England's Jerod Mayo, Baltimore's Haloti Ngata and Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu. Ngata is probably the most dominant of the bunch, but nose guards don't pile up stats and, unfortunately, gets lost in the middle of the pile. Matthews is relentless but has had a very quiet second half for a team that is fading. If you want tackles, it doesn't get any better than Mayo's 163 — for the best team in the league. But Polamalu is probably the most important and most talented player on this list. Without Polamalu slamming the lid shut atop the defense, many of those front seven players wouldn't be as free to attack the quarterback. Despite missing some time late, Polamalu is having one of his best seasons for the league's top defense and wins by a Head-and-Shoulder over Mayo and Ngata.
Nathan: Steelers linebacker James Harrison has 89 total tackles, 10 sacks, six forced fumbles, two INTs and $125,000 worth of fines for being the most aggressive, physical player in the game today. Harrison is the heart, soul and sledgehammer enforcer of the Steel Curtain. To me, there is no other candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.