Not what the Buccaneers had in mind

One of the first quarterbacks Tampa Bay focused on this past offseason was then-Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer. He was capable enough to get Tampa Bay to the playoffs, but expendable enough that Oakland was willing to part ways with him.

Tampa planned it out. It had extensive talks to try to get a trade done. A deal was within its grasp, so much so that the Buccaneers believed Palmer would be theirs.

And just when the Buccaneers thought they would land him, the Cardinals stepped in and made an offer the Raiders could not refuse. Arizona, not Tampa, got the trade done.

In the end, one of Palmer's agents, Dave Dunn, helped steer his client to Arizona instead of Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers felt jilted, betrayed. It did not play particularly well in their training facility. And the Buccaneers had little choice but to find their new emergency backup quarterback, North Carolina State's Mike Glennon, in the third round of the draft.

Now, Josh Freeman has struggled the way Tampa was concerned he might. He has been benched. The Buccaneers have had to turn to their emergency plan. And instead of turning to Palmer, they now will have to square off against him Sunday, Cardinals versus Buccaneers.

How odd that in the very week in which Freeman was removed as the starter, the Buccaneers will be playing against the very quarterback they plotted to land in case this very scenario emerged. One way or another, Palmer always was going to be playing in Tampa in the fourth week of this season.

For a while, it looked like it would be for the Buccaneers. Now it will be for the Cardinals. And it is yet another sign, maybe the ultimate one, of how much moves in March affect the games and seasons in September. Now the Buccaneers need a rookie quarterback to produce the way they felt a veteran quarterback could. Tampa Bay's season, along with jobs, are on the line.

Doctors' decision still reverberates: So it comes full circle once again, the decision of Miami's doctors to spurn quarterback Drew Brees, when New Orleans' doctors did not.

Had Miami's doctors believed that Brees' shoulder would hold up when they put him through an extensive six-hour physical in the spring of 2006, they would have recommended the Dolphins sign him. They did not.

Had the Dolphins opted to sign Brees rather than trade a second-round pick to Minnesota for quarterback Daunte Culpepper, their head coach Nick Saban would have had a much greater chance to succeed in Miami before walking away for the greener pastures of Alabama. He did not.

Had Saban remained in Miami and not fled to Alabama, the Crimson Tide might not be the national power they are today, winning national championships as if it were the state's birthright. But he did.

Had Brees been given an option to sign with the Dolphins and taken it, the Saints almost certainly would not have won the Super Bowl they did in the 2009 season and positioned themselves as the perennial playoff contenders they are. But they did.

Had Miami's doctors made a different determination on Brees, the Dolphins would not have used last year's first-round pick on Ryan Tannehill, who has become the latest quarterback from the class of 2012 to make his mark.

But as it pertains to today, here's the biggest difference Dolphins doctors made on this season's NFL landscape.

Had Brees signed with Miami, then neither team, the Dolphins nor Saints, would be where it is today, preparing for Monday night's showdown of unbeaten teams, a chance for one team to keep alive its unbeaten season while taking another step closer to the postseason.

Wide-open, unpredictable NFC: Here's how muddled and unpredictable the NFC has been this season. Heading into Thursday night's Rams-49ers game in St. Louis, five NFC playoff teams from last season -- San Francisco (1-2), Green Bay (1-2), Atlanta (1-2), Washington (0-3) and Minnesota (0-3) -- had combined to win as many games this season as the Seattle Seahawks (three).

It is the surest sign to date that this season's NFC playoff field is wide open and is going to look considerably different from last year's. Make room for the Cowboys, Bears, Lions, Saints and others. They want to prove it's out with the old and in with the new.

But maybe the most striking stat showing how unpredictable these seasons can be is this: Previous Super Bowl-winning head coaches Mike Shanahan, Tom Coughlin and Mike Tomlin are a combined 0-9 this season, the first season in history in which three head coaches who were past Super Bowl winners have lost their first three games, per the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Schef's specialties

Game of the week: Seattle at Houston -- Two teams good enough to advance to the Super Bowl square off in Houston.

Upset of the week: Houston over Seattle -- Seattle is as good a team as there is in the league, maybe the best. But the Seahawks aren't quite the same team in Houston that they are in Seattle.

Player of the week: Buccaneers RB Doug Martin -- Going to be rookie QB Mike Glennon's best friend against a Cardinals defense that is replacing all three starting linebackers this week.