Before the season started, after Brett Favre finally announced he was coming back and the Vikings announced that Sidney Rice was going to miss the first six weeks of the season (at least), all the talk centered around the fact that Favre was going to be hurting without quality receivers. For some reason, Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin, Greg Camarillo and Visanthe Shiancoe just weren’t going to cut it for a guy who spent his entire career making mediocre receivers look like stars.
Let’s take a look at some of the top receivers Favre had throughout his career, rankings based on number of touchdown passes he threw to them.
1 – Antonio Freeman was a third round pick who made one Pro Bowl in his career. Was out of the league within two years after initially leaving Green Bay.
2 – Sterling Sharpe was probably the best receiver Favre ever played with. Five Pro Bowls (two before Favre), five 1,000+ yard seasons and his career was cut short because of injuries.
3 – Donald Driver was a seventh round pick who made three Pro Bowls with Favre. He’s more the exception that proves the rule, though, as he’s continued to thrive sans Favre.
4 – Robert Brooks was a third round pick who battled injuries throughout his career. Favre actually won a Super Bowl during the season in which Brooks missed with injury.
5 – Bubba Franks had three Pro Bowl season with Favre, and was out of the league a year after leaving Green Bay despite being only 30 years old.
6 – Javon Walker had one Pro Bowl season with Favre, but had only one productive season after leaving Green Bay and was out of the league (basically) by the age of 31.
7 – Bill Schroeder became an effective slot receiver thanks to Favre, and was out of the league within three years of leaving Green Bay.
So what does this tell us? The only guys on this list who had any success minus Favre were Sharpe and Driver. The obvious answer: Favre made his receivers. Much like Dan Marino, Favre has never played with much Hall of Fame-worthy talent around him, which is what made him such a great quarterback. It’s why so many people rank him ahead of guys like John Elway or Joe Montana on career lists. He never had a Jerry Rice to throw it to or a Terrell Davis to hand it off to. The guys who played around him who were successful, were successful BECAUSE of him. That’s been the case through his entire career.
Just look what he did for Shiancoe and Sidney Rice last season. Rice had a total of 537 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in his first two seasons in the NFL. Last season — with Favre — Rice had 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns. Granted, some of that can be chocked up to Rice maturing as a receiver (he’s only 24, after all), but you’d have to think that some, if not most of that success has to do with the fact that Favre made him better. Something Tarvaris Jackson could certainly never do.
Shiancoe had 11 touchdown receptions in SIX YEARS prior to Favre. He had 11 touchdown receptions all of last year. Favre has made a career of turning tight ends into red zone threats (Franks, Mark Chmura), and that was no different with Shiancoe.
(Note: I’m excluding Bernard Berrian from this conversation not because I’m trying to ignore the points that detract from my argument, but solely because Berrian was never 100 percent healthy last year. But let’s not forget, Berrian’s best seasons as a pro came when he had Tarvaris Jackson throwing to him (2007, 2008) and Rex Grossman (2006). The point: He’s not a bad receiver when he’s healthy).
So suddenly, Favre was in trouble because he didn’t have Rice to throw to anymore? He has a tight end he made last year, and a first round receiver who was the Offensive Rookie of the Year last year to throw to. Arguably, that’s STILL more than he had most years in Green Bay, but that’s not enough?
Week one proved many of the pundits who were saying this right. Favre looked sloppy and out of synch with his receivers. Experts screamed that the Vikings needed to trade for Vincent Jackson or Randy Moss to give Favre the help he needed… the help he hadn’t had in 19 YEARS OF PLAYING QUARTERBACK.
Here’s what nobody’s talking about, and here’s why I don’t think Moss puts the Vikings over the hump: Maybe it’s not Berrian, Rice or Shiancoe’s fault that Favre is throwing interceptions and the Vikings offense is stalling through three games, maybe it’s that Favre simply doesn’t have it anymore. And if a quarterback doesn’t have it, no wide receiver is going to fix that.
Favre succeeded with the likes of Freeman, Franks, Schroeder and Andre Rison because he could put a ball where most quarterbacks couldn’t. Put 1998 Favre with 1998 Moss and you’re talking about the type of numbers that make the 2007 Patriots look like the 2010 Bills. The 2010 Favre with the 2010 Moss? Not as appealing.
Sure, Moss still has the ability to catch a deep pass from time to time. But we don’t realize that Moss hasn’t had a 100-yard receiving game since week 10 of last season. So what if Favre can’t get him the ball? What if Favre can’t hit that tiny slot of separation between Moss and Charles Woodson, Charles Tillman or anyone else? I don’t know if he can anymore, and that’s what three weeks of action has showed me.
Is Moss a risky acquisition for the Vikings? Absolutely not. I love the move. They gave up little in the trade, and if he under-performs, well, they weren’t going to win without him anyway, so it’s a lost season and you start anew in 2011. Anything you get out of him is a bonus. It’s like playing with the house money. So in that, it’s a no-lose situation for the Vikings.
But to expect him to somehow revitalize Favre’s season is unrealistic at this point. At best, he’ll be a good decoy to get Harvin more yards in shorter routes, or he’ll free up Rice when he returns (if he’s healthy). But if Favre can’t hit Moss, Rice or Harvin with regularity, it’s all moot.
And right now, that’s the trend that appears to be happening.
Now, on to my week 5 picks:
Atlanta Falcons (-3) at Cleveland Browns
There are a lot of lines this week that I can’t figure out. This is one of them. Side note: Someone on Twitter suggested last Saturday that if the Browns tank the rest of the season, they can fire Eric Mangini and go for a Jim Harbaugh/Andrew Luck combination by hiring Harbaugh and drafting Luck with the No. 1 pick. While I don’t know if that would work or not, I love the idea for some reason. That’s all. I’m picking the Falcons to win and cover.
Chicago Bears at Carolina Panthers (-1)
This was an easy pick for the Bears to win until Jay Cutler got hurt. Todd Collins vs. Jimmy Clausen: The matchup we’ve all been waiting for! Also, I can’t believe how many Bears fans I saw flipping out on Facebook and Twitter over the thought that Packers fans would give them shit about the Giants game. Again, who cares? You still beat the Packers last week. Yes, we’re still bitter about it and we’re going to take any opportunity we have to take pot shots at you. Responding with angry, fueled statuses about how we still beat you and we should all f**k off only adds fuel to our desire to get on your nerves. I’m taking the Panthers to win and cover.
Denver Broncos at Baltimore Ravens (-7)
A statement win for Joe Flacco and my 2011 Super Bowl winner last week. The Broncos always play teams close, though. And I still don’t trust the Ravens’ defense to win by this many points. I’m taking the Ravens to win and the Broncos to beat the points.
Green Bay Packers (-3) at Washington Redskins
This could end up being the most competitive game of the week. I really hate this matchup for the Aaron Rodgers & Co. If the Packers are going to win this game, it’s going to be with defense. I’m picking the Packers to win and the Redskins to beat the points.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Buffalo Bills (no line)
If the Bills don’t win this game, at home against another very bad team, they’re destined for 0-16. I’m taking the Bills outright.
Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts (-8)
This is the perfect opportunity for Peyton Manning and the Colts to prove they’re still a threat against the lone undefeated team at home. I sense a statement blowout by the Colts. I’m taking the Colts to win and cover.
New York Giants at Houston Texans (-3.5)
The Texans have a much better offensive line than the Bears. They also have Arian Foster. The Giants are not good against the run. I’m taking the Texans to win and cover.
St. Louis Rams at Detroit Lions (-3)
One of the least talked about storylines of the season is the fact that the Rams are 2-2. Also, can someone look up the last time the Lions were giving points in any game? I’m taking the Rams to win outright.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cincinnati Bengals (-6.5)
The two biggest enigmas of the NFL season thus far. At least to me. I don’t know how good or bad either of these teams are. I’m taking the Bengals to win and the Bucs to beat the points.
New Orleans Saints (-7) at Arizona Cardinals
The fact that the Saints are giving seven on the road shows you how bad Vegas thinks the Cardinals are. Also, they’re starting rookie Max Hall at quarterback. “Tom Brady isn’t walking through that door.” I’m taking the Saints to win and cover.
San Diego Chargers (-6.5) at Oakland Raiders
One of those division rivalry games where we could very easily see Norv Turner crap his pants. I’m taking the Chargers to win and the Raiders to beat the points.
Tennessee Titans at Dallas Cowboys (-7)
I can’t believe how many points the Cowboys are giving here. If I had to guess on a line for this game without knowing, I’d have expected them to be giving two, maybe three at the most. The Titans are a good running football team and I’ll always take Jeff Fisher > Wade Phillips. I’m taking the Titans to win outright.
Philadelphia Eagles at San Francisco 49ers (-3.5)
People sure are quick to write off the Eagles sans Michael Vick. Well here’s a clue for you: The 49ers are really, really bad. I’m taking the Eagles to win outright.
Minnesota Vikings at New York Jets (-4)
If Darrelle Revis is playing, the Vikings are in huge trouble. If he’s not, I still don’t like them. The Jets have one of the best rush defenses in the NFL, and you can read the first 900 words of this column to know how I feel about Favre in 2010. I’m taking the Jets to win and cover.