It's usually around this time of year we notice that starting quarterbacks are dropping like flies, giving way to their understudies because of injuries. They're dropping all right, but, with Tom Brady a notable exception, the injuries have been to the starters' egos.
And maybe their butts, from getting planted on the bench.
This week Marc Bulger has joined Tarvaris Jackson, Jeff Garcia and half the population of Kansas City as, at least for the moment, former starting quarterbacks in the NFL.
Here are this column's Week 4 picks, with winners in caps and the predictions of my kids, whathisname and whatshername -- hey, football season's in full swing, the baseball playoffs are about to start and basketball and hockey are gearing up; I've got a lot to think about -- included as usual.
The boy is having a nice year so far, going 31-16 making his own picks, which leaves him tied for seventh in the Panel o' Experts with Larry Weisman and Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. There's a five-way tie for second behind the solo leader, Accuscore, a computer that picks based on simulations, which is 33-14.
Sunday early games
Cleveland (0-3) at CINCINNATI (0-3)
Quarterback Derek Anderson has struggled against a brutal schedule in the first three weeks and is now on the verge of being benched by Romeo Crennel. The Brady Quinn era, or at least the first, possibly abbreviated Brady Quinn era, could start any minute. The Bengals looked a lot better last week against the Giants. And they're at home. And someone has to win.
Houston (0-2) at JACKSONVILLE (1-2)
The Jaguars found their running game against the Colts last week, which is a good place to find it. Playing the Texans, even with an injury-riddled offensive line, is a good way to hang onto it.
Kids: Jacksonville (7.5-point favorite)
Atlanta (2-1) at CAROLINA (2-1)
There's 2-1 and then there's 2-1. The Falcons have drawn home games against two of the worst teams in the NFL, the Lions and Chiefs, and they've won them both. Against their one quality opponent so far, the Bucs, Atlanta got pounded on the road, 24-9. The Panthers lost to the previously winless Vikings on the road last week. Before that they won squeakers at San Diego and at home against the Bears. Hard to tell what it all means for the Panthers. Easier to see what's up with the Falcons. Beating the teams you should beat is a good sign in the rebuilding process. And it's Carolina's assignment on Sunday.
Kids: Carolina (7.5-point favorite)
Denver (3-0) at KANSAS CITY (0-3)
What the Heck Pick of the Week. I can already see that the WTH Pick is probably going to rotate among the Chiefs, Rams, Lions and Raiders all year. The Lions are off and the Raiders are ineligible because San Diego has a losing record, so it's a Missouri coin flip. The Broncos have looked a little better than the Bills in going 3-0, so K.C. it is.
Kids: Denver (9.5-point favorite)
San Francisco (2-1) at NEW ORLEANS (1-2)
Whee! Line up a Mike Martz offense against a leaky defense, and Drew Brees, Reggie Bush and company against another one, and it's shootout time again for the Saints. Predicted final score: 5-3.
Kids: New Orleans (6-point-favorite)
ARIZONA (2-1) at N.Y. Jets (1-2)
Since the NFC has clearly caught up to the AFC, the Cardinals have to win this one. Besides, you have to go with the younger quarterback.
Daisy: New York
GREEN BAY (2-1) at Tampa Bay (2-1)
Good sort-'em-out game. Are the Packers among the NFC elite and the Cowboys' relatively easy win over them was just an early-season who cares, or are they more of a field horse that has to hope the leaders stumble? Are the Bucs another of those field horses, or did they just steal a win over a mediocre Bears team -- another one: contender or not? -- to go with their pounding of the Falcons? I still like the Packers for their defense, depth and deep threats. The Bucs I think will lose this game, but hang around the playoff picture all year.
Kids: Green Bay
Minnesota (1-2) at TENNESSEE (3-0)
A replacement quarterback bowl. Gus Frerotte vs. Kerry Collins. Both teams, natch, will try to win on the ground. They'll both struggle, and Collins will have to win it against the Vikings' weaker pass defense. Because the AFC is clearly still stronger than the NFC, that'll happen. If Frerotte stays in the league 10 more years I still won't be able to remember one R, one R, two T's without looking it up. Funny, because I had Roethlisberger down within three weeks.
Sunday late games
SAN DIEGO (1-2) at Oakland (1-2)
The Raiders are probably a lot better than the three nightmares I keep lumping them in with, the Lions, Rams and Chiefs. Their win came against Kansas City, but they looked pretty good in Buffalo last week. They have that look of a team just good enough to lose to most teams in the league, which is pretty good considering what a madhouse of an organization it is. Two months from now the Raiders will be playing out the string in depressing fashion under an interim coach, but for now they could sneak up on the Chargers. San Diego is wobbly after two early losses and a toe injury to LaDainian Tomlinson, who'll probably play Sunday but is averaging only 3.3 yards per carry this year. If the Chargers are overconfident after their rout of the possibly terrible Jets, or if the Chargers just aren't that good, this one could be interesting.
Kids: San Diego (7-point favorite)
BUFFALO (3-0) at St. Louis (0-3)
The Rams have benched Marc Bulger and will start Trent Green at quarterback. Yeah, that should solve everything. Raise your hand if you had the Bills starting 4-0.
Kids: Buffalo (8.5-point favorite)
Washington (2-1) at DALLAS (3-0)
With the AFC powers all struggling and a win over the Packers on their ledger, the Cowboys have emerged as the early front-runner to win the Super Bowl. It wasn't so long ago that Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton were early front-runners, so remember there's a long way to go. And don't forget about the Giants, who haven't looked super yet and are off this week, but also have a good chance at starting 6-0. The Dallas offense should be enough for the Cowboys to overpower improving Washington at home.
Kids: Dallas (11-point favorite)
Sunday night game
PHILADELPHIA (2-1) at Chicago (1-2)
The Eagles put themselves on the map by beating the Steelers last week. If they can keep Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook healthy, they'd be an intriguing bet to make a run at the NFC title. They're both nicked up, McNabb with a chest bruise and Westbrook with an ankle sprain. Neither has practiced this week and both say they'll play Sunday, though Westbrook looks more likely than McNabb to sit. The Bears have blown a couple of leads and lost a couple of games since their opening win over the Colts, who haven't looked like themselves so far. The Eagles defense will render a comeback unnecessary in this one.
Monday night games
Baltimore (2-0) at PITTSBURGH (2-1)
What a Monday night game. Are the Ravens as good as they've looked so far? Are the Steelers not, after all, the class of the AFC? Their loss at Philadelphia cast some doubt on that idea. Pittsburgh is having trouble protecting Ben Roethlisberger, and losing running back Willie Parker to a sprained knee won't help matters. Neither will playing Baltimore's elite defense, which figures to go the same blitz-happy route the Eagles went. Of course, the Ravens will have a similar problem on offense, with the Steelers throwing everything at rookie Joe Flacco. The team that scores more on defense will win this one. I'll take the veteran quarterback over the rookie -- before they both find themselves benched.
Season record: 29-18
Last week: 12-4
What the Heck Picks: 0-3
Number of NFL starting quarterbacks who'll be benched next week if Trent Green leads the Rams over the Bills: 10
This story has been corrected since publication.