Jim Cowsert/Icon SMI
A weekly NFL column that heads in the opposite direction of your average pro football analysis.
1. On paper, the Cowboys don't seem to have much of a chance against the 13-0 Saints at the Superdome next Saturday. They've lost two in a row, are just 3-3 on the road and they can't play in December. But this game is indoors, so at least the Cowboys won't fall apart in bad weather. And Dallas is better than the two teams New Orleans has struggled to beat the last two weeks -- Washington and Atlanta. The Cowboys are on a losing streak, but they significantly out-gained the Giants two weeks ago, and hung in there with the red-hot Chargers on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Saints' signature win this half of the season was over the Patriots, who are now clearly just a shadow of their Super Bowl teams. The Saints have hinted they'll play all out the rest of the regular season. But they haven't given anywhere near 100 percent effort the last two weeks. Watch out for a possible stunner on the NFL Network if you're lucky enough to get it.
2. If you're a former Super Bowl-winning coach looking for a new gig next year, you have to reach out to Texans owner Bob McNair. Building around Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson on offense and young defensive guys like Mario Williams, Demeco Ryans and rookie Brian Cushing is the best situation of the possible vacancies. If a few bounces went the other way, the Texans could have ended up 11-5. And the bar is pretty low in Houston -- if you finish 10-6 and reach a wild-card game, you're a savior. Dallas might have a lot of talent, but you basically have to reach the Super Bowl to be considered a success. Meanwhile, McNair may want to hold on to Gary Kubiak, but wouldn't the interest of a future Hall of Fame coach change his mind?
3. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers will start to nudge himself into the MVP race as the Colts and Saints call off the dogs in coming weeks. Rivers is great, but tight end Antonio Gates is right there as the most valuable player on that team. The prolific tight end has been a bit under the radar as Dallas Clark and Jason Witten have emerged as superstars. But with 71 catches for 1,038 yards, Gates is just 63 yards short of his single-season high and Gates is there whenever the Chargers need a huge first down. It won't happen, but it'd be great to see a tight end get some MVP chatter.
4. A cornerback hasn't been taken in the top 10 since 2005 as the importance of that position has seemingly slipped because of zone coverages. But with the Packers' Charles Woodson, the Jets' Darrell Revis and the Broncos' Champ Bailey leading the top three defenses in the NFL, the cover corner is on its way back. If Tennessee safety Eric Berry goes pro, he could easily move to corner and be the highest draft pick at that position in many years.
5. As brilliant as Donovan McNabb and Eli Manning were on Sunday night, the fall-off of the Eagles and Giants defenses under their first-year coordinators Sean McDermott (Philly) and Bill Sheridan (New York) is notable. Funny to see the NFC East change its character from defense-first to high-flying offense. Either team will get shredded against the Vikings, Saints or Cardinals in the playoffs -- although that doesn't mean they can't outscore those teams.
6. The Colts may go 16-0, and Jim Caldwell is still one of the least recognizable coaches in the NFL. That's not going to change even if they win the Super Bowl. Most people think of Indy as Tony Dungy's team - maybe even more so now that Dungy has come out of his shell on television and let people know him more. If Indy wins it all, Caldwell will definitely join George Seifert and Barry Switzer in the club of coaches who won a championship with someone else's team. (Mike Tomlin may also eventually be considered part of that group as well).
7. Look for teams use Matt Cassel to their advantage this offseason when they're negotiating with free agent quarterbacks. But certainly don't blame Cassel. The Chiefs didn't have the pieces in place to help him succeed and never should have invested so much in a quarterback at this point of their development.
8. Bill Belichick's tough love will ultimately pay off. Sure, sending Randy Moss home this week because he was late got in his head. But Belichick knows New England's manageable remaining schedule (Buffalo, Jacksonville, at Houston) gives him some wiggle room as he tries to teach some lessons. Besides, the Patriots aren't a great team so maybe they have to try a radical approach to play above their head.
9. The Jets proved once again it doesn't matter who their quarterback is in their 26-3 win over the Bucs. They just shouldn't be throwing the ball under any circumstances. Kellen Clemens couldn't have played much worse and their defense and running game easily got the job done. If Rex Ryan had more experience as a head coach, he probably would have limited his quarterback's throws earlier in the season and added a win or two.
10. Question for discussion: Who would you choose to start a team with -- Kyle Orton or Jay Cutler? I'd choose Orton. The only advantage Cutler has is arm strength, and that's obviously not enough if you're not careful with the ball. Weigh in with your choice and other comments below ...