Depending on which side of the Great Johnny Football Divide you come down on, Johnny Manziel's debut as Cleveland's quarterback was either disappointing or delightful.

There's little doubt how the Cincinnati Bengals felt during their 30-0 drubbing of Manziel's Browns last Sunday. Several Bengals taunted the QB, some with mocking imitations of his money-rubbing gesture.

But no matter how bad his performance (10 for 18 for 80 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions, three sacks, and a passer rating of 27.3), it doesn't mean Manziel will be the colossal bust some foresee and others pray for.

As longtime Cowboys executive Gil Brandt pointed out on, Manziel's debut wasn't any worse than those of some legendary quarterbacks.

Troy Aikman had a passer rating of 40.2 in Dallas' 38-0 loss to the Saints in his debut. He went 17 of 35 for 180 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions, and two sacks. He would finish his rookie year with twice as many interceptions as touchdowns (18-9).

John Elway's passer rating was 0.0 in his injury-interrupted first game. Although the Broncos beat Pittsburgh, 14-10, he threw just eight passes and had one interception and no touchdowns. Like Aikman, he finished the season with twice as many picks as TDs (14-7).

Peyton Manning threw a TD in his first game, a 24-15 loss to Miami, but was picked off three times. His passer rating was 58.6.

Fran Tarkenton's first start, a 21-7 Vikings loss to Dallas, included two interceptions, no TDs, and a passer rating of 15.5.

The good, the bad, and the South

The Deep South clearly has assumed football supremacy from former Rust Belt hotbeds like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

But while the Southeastern Conference rules college football, the NFL teams from SEC states have been dreadful in 2014.

The nine professional teams from Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Georgia, and Missouri have a combined 47-79 record this season. Only one, Dallas at 10-4, is above .500.

Tennessee, Tampa Bay, and Jacksonville are each 2-12. Atlanta is 5-9. New Orleans and St. Louis are 6-8, Houston and Miami 7-7.

Fuzzy origins

Fuzzy Thurston, the legendary Green Bay Packers guard who died last week at 80, might have had one of the most improbable careers of any Hall of Famer.

Thurston was the youngest of eight children of a widowed mother, and his Altoona (Wis.) High didn't have a football team. He went to Valparaiso College on a basketball scholarship and didn't play football until his junior year.

The Eagles chose him in the fifth round of the 1956 draft but released him not long afterward. Thurston then went into the Army before landing a backup job with the Baltimore Colts.

In 1959, first-year Packers coach Vince Lombardi traded for Thurston, and he soon became what the New York Times in its obituary labeled "the broom" in the famous Green Bay power sweep.

Nielsen knockouts

The NFL is like a snowball rolling downhill, constantly accumulating more heft and power.

The leviathan league's TV ratings continue to astound. The top 15 television shows since the NFL schedule began on Sept. 4 are all either NFL games or pre- or postgame shows.

Overall, the NFL has produced 37 of the top 40 rated shows during that span.

If you look closely at the numbers, you can make the case that the Eagles deserve to be America's team. Philadelphia turns up four times in those top 15 broadcasts.

The Eagles' Thanksgiving rout of Dallas is No. 1. And their matchups with the Packers (10), Seahawks (12), and 49ers (13) also made the list.

Birth of a union

The NFL Players Association, which last week took the league to court over its punishment in the Adrian Peterson case, was born out of a dispute that involved the Eagles, or at least the Steagles, the World War II bonding of the Philly and Pittsburgh franchises.

Roy Zimmerman was a pretty good quarterback, cornerback, and kicker for the Washington Redskins. A two-time all-pro, he led the league in interceptions in 1945.

In 1943, players, without a union, weren't compensated for their participation in exhibition games. When parsimonious Redskins owner George Marshall scheduled a preseason match with the College All-Stars, Zimmerman refused to play unless he was paid.

Furious, Marshall dealt him to the Steagles. In four seasons with them and the reconstituted Eagles, the San Jose State product threw 30 TD passes.

A few years after the player's one-man protest, a lawsuit by Bill Radovich, who had been inspired by Zimmerman, led to the formation of the NFLPA.

Weekend's Best



Atlanta at New Orleans

Though these two 2014 busts have losing records, the NFC South title might be determined here. The enigmatic Saints (6-8) have beaten Green Bay and Pittsburgh yet lost four straight in their Superdome. The 5-9 Falcons have been just as bad on the road, losing five of seven. Saints QB Drew Brees threw for 375 yards and three touchdowns last week.


Indianapolis at Dallas

Though the Colts have little to play for, the Eagles would love to see them win this interesting matchup of 10-4 division leaders. When Tony Romo is healthy, the Dallas offense has been as good as any. One factor in Indianapolis' favor is that all four Cowboys losses have come at home. The Colts are just 2-4 against playoff contenders.


Seattle at Arizona

Two of the league's best defenses collide in the desert. The 11-3 Cardinals will need their 'D' to be extra stingy against the 10-4 Seahawks' improving offense since they're down to their No. 3 QB, little-used Ryan Lindley. Seattle has won four straight and permitted a total of 27 points in doing so. The Seahawks won the first meeting, 19-3.


Denver at Cincinnati

Both teams are coming off impressive victories. The 11-3 Broncos clinched their division by defeating San Diego. Meanwhile, Cincinnati (9-4-1) dominated Cleveland and Johnny Manziel, 30-0. Denver, which tipped six Philip Rivers passes last Sunday, will look to maintain the pressure on Andy Dalton. The Bengals have the league's second-ranked running game.