1. Brandon Marshall: Hall of Famer
Do you remember where Brandon Marshall was?
I don't mean in football. I mean in life. He was once at the bottom. There were domestic violence accusations. Drunk driving charges. He was suspended by Roger Goodell for his misconduct.
Marshall was always a dynamic talent, but his problems off the field—partly due to what has been a well-publicized battle with mental illness—were a drain on his talent. Those problems, those issues, that drainage, is gone. Now, we see the best Marshall ever.
This Marshall incarnation is one of the most powerful, formidable receivers that I've ever seen.
I was so wrong about the Jets in general this year, scoffing at any notion they would win 10 or 11 games. The reason I was wr-r-r-r-r-wrong is twofold: One, Ryan Fitzpatrick has been better than I ever believed he would be, and two, Marshall is having one of the best seasons in Jets team history.
Marshall has 101 catches this season, his league-record sixth season with 100 or more. Put that in perspective with some of the best ever. Jerry Rice only had four 100-reception seasons. Cris Carter and Randy Moss had two. Michael Irvin, Tim Brown and Terrell Owens? One each.
The Jets' previous record was 93, set by Al Toon in 1988. Twenty-seven years ago.
There's a chance Marshall breaks another Jets record, this one even older. Don Maynard holds the team record for most receiving yardage in a season with 1,434. That was set in 1967. Forty-eight years ago. Marshall needs 59 yards Sunday against the Bills to pass it.
One of the true tests of a Hall of Famer is whether he's one of the best of his generation, and I could argue that Marshall is as good as anyone in his time.
Since he became a starter in 2007, Marshall has more receptions than anyone else in the NFL by a mile and is second to only Calvin Johnson in receiving yards and touchdowns. In 2009, he set an NFL record for most catches in a game with 21.
He had three straight 100-catch seasons from 2007-2009, one of just six players in history with three straight, despite going from having Jay Cutler as his quarterback to having Kyle Orton. He's also been successful catching passes from the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Moore and Chad Henne—not exactly Super Bowl winners or future Hall of Famers like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.
He's more physically powerful than the current top guys, like Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. and Julio Jones, and doesn't possess the naked speed those players do. But even as the NFL's transitioned to guys with that skill set, he's still just as effective.
One of the more interesting parts of Marshall's maturity is how, with the Jets, he's become the consummate locker room leader. It wasn't that way for Marshall in other places, particularly in his last stop with the Bears. Quite frankly, he was a jerk.
Last week, before playing New England, it was Marshall who told teammates not to celebrate like they won the Super Bowl when they beat the Patriots. Jets players did, and Marshall was pseudo-annoyed. That's good leadership. It's a different Marshall than the one who played with the Bears last season.
I had never thought of Marshall as a Hall of Famer. Part of it was his past. But now, there's little doubt.
He is one.
2. The law firm of Marshall & Decker
I'm guilty at undervaluing Jets wide receiver Eric Decker. No more. Will never happen again. Decker and Marshall just hit a pretty impressive milestone.
Marshall and Decker both caught touchdown passes against the Patriots, the eighth time that's happened this year, which is the most by teammates in a season in NFL history.
The receiving duo they passed? Cris Carter and Randy Moss.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
3. Cris Carter not sold on Ryan Fitzpatrick
One more Jets note. I like Cris Carter (a great deal) because he's blunt and speaks honestly and has the football credentials to back up what he says. He is, after all, a Hall of Famer and had, to me, the best hands in history.
So when he talks, I listen, and what he said on ESPN's Mike & Mike about Ryan Fitzpatrick caught my attention: "He scares me still...when you watch him, do you have a whole lot of confidence?"
Carter went on to explain that Fitzpatrick is succeeding because of the system—good receivers, a solid defense and a strong running game.
I would just say this about Fitzpatrick: He's playing almost mistake-free football, and sometimes that's all you need. In the last five games, Fitzpatrick has 13 touchdowns to one interception.
4. The law firm of Jones & Brown
The numbers Julio Jones and Antonio Brown are putting up are, well, pretty incredible.
Jones has 127 catches, Brown 123. Marvin Harrison has the single-season record with 143.
Jones and Brown likely won't catch Harrison, but it bodes well for both the Falcons and Steelers that receivers so young are already dominating.
5. Cam Newton can still make history
The Panthers won't match the 1972 Dolphins, but Cam Newton can do something else if he wins a Super Bowl.
Newton could become only the second person to win a Heisman, a national championship, an Associated Press MVP and a Super Bowl.
Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen is currently the only player to have won all four—and was also a Super Bowl MVP. That is a pretty impressive lack of company Newton could join.
Oh, and one other thing: Newton also won a junior college national championship.
6. This will not end well
If it is true, as Bleacher Report's Jason Cole reports, the Browns intend to fire general manager Ray Farmer and keep coach Mike Pettine, it would be, well, incredibly stupid.
Please, do not misunderstand. Farmer, for a variety of reasons we don't need to get into (because they're obvious), has been dreadful. I thought this regime would be solid, smart and trustworthy. Boy, was I wrong.
Firing Farmer isn't the issue. The issue would be keeping Pettine.
That situation almost never works. I won't say it's never been successful, but it's rarely so. GMs almost always want their own coach. Unless Pettine morphs into Bill Belichick, there's little chance he would survive beyond next season.
So the Browns will fire Pettine and start over twice in two years? Why not just start over once by hiring a new general manager and letting that general manager pick his own coach?
7. Jeff Fisher keeps sliding by
The Rams' win at Seattle was wonderful. They played inspired, smart football and beat one of the hottest teams in the sport.
This is what Jeff Fisher does. He gives fans just enough hope, just enough belief that he can turn things around, and then next season comes and it's the same ol' Fisher.
Just remember this: The Rams are 7-8 with one game to go. This means Fisher will have another season where he was .500 or below. The last time Fisher had a winning year was 2008. He's had six in 21 years.
8. Kickstarter movie campaign features NFL stars
Several former college stars, including Heisman winner Desmond Howard, former Cal standout Aaron Rodgers and Miami great Ray Lewis, have joined a movie project led by former LSU wideout Abram Booty, a high school coach in California, aimed at illuminating college athlete exploitation and the NCAA.
The most interesting part is the names. If this movie does get made, the story behind that will be as compelling as what's on the screen.
9. Broncos still have brutal choice
Do they go with the steadiness of Brock Osweiler or the hobbled greatness of Peyton Manning? To me, this isn't even a choice. You go with Osweiler.
The Broncos players, though, seem to feel differently.
"There is no divide among the players; we will go with what the coaches say and be fine," one player told me.
In the locker room, there's no debate. The players seem to be comfortable with whomever plays.
The question is, what do the coaches believe?
10. The most dominant team in the NFL is...
The Arizona Cardinals? That's the argument the New York Times' Chase Stuart is making. The problem with that belief is there's no such thing. If there's one thing I've learned in covering football for almost three decades, it's the league's best team varies on a week-to-week basis.
The NFL right now is composed of three superpowers—Carolina, Arizona and New England—followed by a handful of very good teams, followed by a sea of mediocrity, and then a handful of putrid teams.
On any given week, the Panthers can be the best in football. Or the Cardinals. Or a Patriots team getting healthy players like Julian Edelman back.
So the dominance rotates, weekly, and while the Cardinals look outstanding now, it can change in a moment. Just ask the Panthers.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.