PACKERS vs. FALCONS
6:20 p.m., NBC
ATLANTA — Tramon Williams' end-of-half interception return for a Green Bay touchdown against Atlanta at the Georgia Dome in last season's playoffs might be remembered as a turning point in NFL history.
The Falcons were the better team entering the game, and although the Packers held a 21-14 lead before the play, the Falcons were driving and appeared likely to score. Williams' interception turned the game into a rout, and the Packers (4-0) — who face Atlanta tonight at 6:20 p.m. — have been unbeatable ever since, while the Falcons (2-2) have replaced them as the team with a young quarterback and a lot of talent that cannot quite get its act together.
Of course, for some that turning point arrived a little late.
"I'm really surprised that it kind of took him so long," Brett Favre said of the three interminable years it took Aaron Rodgers to lead the Packers to the Super Bowl. Who knew that through all of those quasi-retirements, through his stints with the Jets and the Vikings, Favre was impatiently waiting for Rodgers to close the deal? Favre did not sound as if he was trying to insult Rodgers — he has simply lost the ability to compliment people who are not him — but teammates and analysts have rushed to Rodgers' defense, which he does not really need.
It had been several peaceful months since the last self-serving Favre rant. What took him so long?
SAINTS (3-1) at PANTHERS (1-3),11 a.m.
The proper transitional form between terrible and great for an NFL team is not average, but interesting. Average teams are stuck at average, or worse, are stuck in the NFC West. Interesting teams, with great strengths but fascinating flaws, are usually on the fast track up or down. Carolina is going up; the road down goes through Philadelphia.
The Panthers are interesting because Cam Newton has settled into his role as the league's hottest prospect. His developing skills in the pocket make him more than a scrambles-and-bombs playground passer, though the scrambles and bombs remain frequent and fun. Steve Smith has been rejuvenated by Newton's presence and is averaging 22.1 yards a catch. The supporting cast — running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, tight ends Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey — is deep and multitalented. Defensively, the Panthers do not have much, but that keeps things entertaining.
The Saints are always interesting, except when they play the Jaguars, who take the bland with them. The Panthers are no match for the Saints yet, but they are now game for a 34-29 or 40-33 final score, which is the next best thing to winning after a year of watching Jimmy Clausen throw 2-yard passes to Tony Fiammetta.
RAIDERS (2-2) at TEXANS (3-1), 11 a.m.
Last week Oakland coach Hue Jackson guaranteed that the Raiders would win the AFC West. Boy, Joe Namath starts chirping, and suddenly everyone wants to be like him. Jackson based his reasoning on these facts: 1) The Raiders are pretty good; 2) the Broncos are committed to starting Kyle Orton until this entire generation of fans is too old to remember that they drafted Tim Tebow; 3) the Chiefs cannot beat the Vikings by five points without their coach and quarterback nearly coming to blows on the sideline; and 4) the Chargers' 330-pound nose tackle, Antonio Garay, drives a Hello Kitty Smart Car, removing him as a potential threat.
The Texans have made no guarantees, despite lingering in the national spotlight longer than usual and having an Indianapolis-free path to the AFC South title. Houston received some good news when it learned wide receiver Andre Johnson will miss a maximum of three games with a right hamstring injury that looked far worse when he crumpled to the ground, untouched, against the Steelers last week. Even better news for the Texans: They now have enough talent in other areas to survive three games without Johnson.
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