NFL is one big Survivor Pool

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:54 AM ET

Can't anybody here play this game?

The Green Bay Packers injury problems have been well documented but they are far from the only team wondering when the sky is going to fall.

The Eagles rent the quarterback position out on a weekly basis and the Rams have a new gun-slinging sheriff in town named Sam Bradford but no No. 1 receiver. In Detroit, the only place Matthew Stafford has been leading the Lions to is the trainer's room.

Then there are the Saints who's chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions comes only if the team doctor turns out to be their MVP. Yesterday Randall Gay went on injured reserve with a head injury and they signed cornerback Quincy Butler.

The Saints' secondary is seeing more patches than a Cracker quilting bee. Tracy Porter is out with a knee injury and the other starting corner Jabari Greer didn't practice because of a sore shoulder. Safety Darren Sharper has been out all season and is looking to return soon. But he's not wearing that knee brace because it makes a nice fashion accessory.

There's a reason they don't look like defending champions. Those aren't the real Saints out there every weekend.

But anyone looking for the totally silly Sunday should dial up Oakland where starter Bruce Gradkowski is sidelined with a sore shoulder. Backups Jason Campbell and Kyle Boller split reps in practice yesterday and instilled so much confidence that head coach Tom Cable is toying with putting a former high school quarterback behind centre.

Punter Shane Lechler took a handful of snaps with Oakland's starting offence. In his senior year of high school Lechler quarterbacked his team to the Texas state quarter-finals and he reportedly has one of the strongest throwing arms on the team.

Of course, we are talking about the Raiders here, so that might not be saying much.

Meantime, former Raiders No. 1 draft pick, JaMarcus Russell said in an interview with Inside The NFL that he's a changed man from the one who spent three disappointing seasons in Oakland and that he's confident he'll get another chance in the NFL.

But, asked what he'd do differently he said "I'm not sure." So, even Al Davis wouldn't be silly enough to go there again, even if Russell did come cheap. Right? Right, Al? You there? Uh-oh ... Someone hide the women and children. It's the Raiders, remember. Weirder things have happened.

BEST OF LUCK

Matthew Stafford's return as the Lions' quarterback could mean money in the bank for rookie running back Jahvid Best.

Best is on target to hit some of the bonuses in his contract. He needs to rush for 452 yards (701 for the season) in the club's last 11 games to earn an extra $200,000. That amount doubles if he hits 850 yards.

The problem is that after a fast start defences have been able to key on him ever since the strong-armed Stafford injured his shoulder. The Lions have a bye this week but Stafford is back practicing and expected to return next week.

That should give Best a bit more room to ramble.

OLD SCHOOL

Joe Paterno, the 83-year-old Penn State coach, is old enough to remember when many players didn't even wear helmets, and the helmets that did exist were more like leather hats, with no protection for the face.

He wonders if football should return to those days.

"I've been saying for 15 years we ought to get rid of the facemask," Paterno said on his weekly conference call. "Then you go back to shoulder blocking, shoulder tackling, and you wouldn't have all those heroes out there."

KEY TO SUCCESS

Buffalo Bills' linebacker Chris Kelsay looks at this weekend's game against Baltimore and knows what their biggest obstacle will be.

It's the Bills themselves. Kelsay says the Bills don't get beaten so much as they beat themselves.

"I thought throughout the season, if you go back and look at all the X plays, whether it's run or pass -- I mean big plays against us -- I'd say 90% of the time it's our fault," said Kelsay this week. "It's not what they did, it's what we didn't do, guys being out of the gaps, over-pursuing, not playing the right coverages, whatever it may be. They're taking advantage of mistakes we're making, which good teams do. But it's correctable things."

Just to keep this game close, Buffalo -- ranked 32nd in the league against the run--will have to stop the Ravens' ground game which ranks 16th in the league but is fifth in yards per carry.

QUICK HITS

Patriots running back Kevin Faulk had his knee ligament reconstruction surgery Thursday ... The Giants-Cowboys confrontation could be decided by who makes the fewest mistakes. The teams have combined for 26 fumbles and interceptions ... In their last two games the Cardinals have averaged just 45 yards rushing ...The Browns, looking to replace defensive end Robarie Smith (back), who is out for the season, worked out Jarvis Green, formerly of the Broncos and Patriots ... The Lions have signed linebacker Bobby Carpenter, a former Dallas first-round pick ... Dolphins defensive lineman Jared Odrick, who missed the first six weeks with a broken bone in his leg, has reinjured the same leg.

bill.lankhof@sunmedia.ca


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