Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 15.
Another farewell? There has been all sorts of talk about John Fox coaching his last home game for the Panthers. But there also seems to be a lot of speculation from Carolina fans that this could be the last time wide receiver Steve Smith plays for the Panthers in Bank of America Stadium. It’s a legitimate question about one of the best players in franchise history. Smith remains under contract with the team through 2012. But it is fair to wonder whether Smith might want out or whether a new coach might want to start fresh with young receivers. Does Smith want out? I think it’s important to note that a guy who rarely hides his feelings has never even hinted about wanting out. However, I wouldn’t blame Smith if he did ask out. He’s a guy who has an outside shot at the Hall of Fame if he can put up some big numbers for a few more years. Common sense says it’s going to take the Panthers some time to build, and Smith doesn't have time for that. He’s also a highly competitive guy, and I seriously doubt he enjoys losing. If he goes and asks management to trade him, I think he’d get his wish pretty much out of respect. But unless or until he actually says he wants out, I don’t think everyone should assume Smith wants to leave Carolina.
The Domeless Saints. I’m looking at Sunday’s weather forecast for Baltimore and it doesn’t look as bad as it did a few days ago when snow was mentioned as a possibility. The latest forecast says there is only a 10-percent chance of precipitation and the temperature might be a little above freezing. This might be a good warm-up game for the Saints because they could have to go on the road to someplace like New York, Philadelphia or Chicago in the playoffs. They have that perception of being a “dome team." Might be a good time to start shedding that perception.
Turn down “The Burner." It sounds like there is a decent chance Atlanta running back Jason Snelling could return to play against Seattle after sitting out the last couple of games. If he does, that’s really good news for the Falcons. They’ve been riding starter Michael Turner very hard the last few weeks, and he has produced in outstanding fashion. The Falcons aren’t going to do anything to dramatically cut Turner’s carries because he’s such an important part of the offense. But they’d love nothing more than to give a few of those carries to Snelling, who is a quality backup. At the moment, Turner has 275 carries. He’s been getting around 25 carries a game recently. If you project it out at that rate, Turner’s on pace for 350 carries for the regular season. That number is a little higher than the Falcons would like, especially when you consider that more carries will be coming in the playoffs. I’m thinking the Falcons would like to chop Turner’s pace down to a point where he ends the regular season with somewhere around 330 carries.
Mix and match. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who seem to have been scrambling to compensate for injuries every week in recent memory, will have to do it again. This time, the big question is how they will replace rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. There is no singular answer to that. The Bucs haven’t laid out their entire plan, but coach Raheem Morris has said the team will take a committee approach at defensive tackle. Defensive end Michael Bennett could slide over there and backups Al Woods and Frank Okam could get some time in what figures to be a heavy rotation. There even have been hints that nose tackle Roy Miller could slide over to McCoy’s old spot at times.
Suh Flu outbreak. I’m sort of glad I’m getting on a plane to Baltimore on Saturday because there could be an epidemic hitting Tampa Bay on Sunday. It’s called Suh Flu, and symptoms are offensive linemen breaking out in a cold sweat at the prospect of having to block Detroit’s rookie sensation Ndamukong Suh. He’s lived up to all the hype that came with being the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. The Bucs are expected to start rookie guards Ted Larsen and Derek Hardman. They certainly will get some attempts at help from center Jeremy Zuttah, but I’m not sure that will be enough to stop this outbreak.