Extra Points: Cobb's injury accentuates NFL butterfly effect

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - "The Butterfly Effect" is far more than a science fiction thriller starring Ashton Kutcher.

In real life, it's a term used in chaos theory to illustrate how small initial differences may lead to larger unforeseen consequences over time.

The name of the effect was coined by Edward Lorenz and refers back to a theoretical example of a hurricane's formation being wholly contingent on whether or a butterfly had flapped its wings weeks earlier.

While that's obviously a stretch and Hollywood has by and large turned the butterfly effect into a hackneyed cliche involving time travel, it's actual implications are taken for granted by millions every day.

It could be as simple as taking a different route to work the day there was a massive traffic jam on the freeway or as life-altering as the now legendary stories of the lucky few who missed their doomed flights on Sept. 11, 2001.

The butterfly effect even exists in football, evidenced by Baltimore Ravens rookie safety Matt Elam, who took out Aaron Rodgers' most dynamic receiver, Randall Cobb, last Sunday with a text-book hit under 2013 football rules, one with which Rodgers took exception.

The helmet to the leg knocked Cobb out of the game with what is being reported as a broken right fibula, an injury that will sideline him for "multiple weeks," according to Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy.

Multiple weeks turned out to be at least eight when the Pack placed Cobb on injured reserve with a designation to return on Tuesday. The third-year standout will not be eligible to play until the Packers' Week 15 matchup at Dallas on Dec. 15, and even that sounds like a stretch.

The injury could be a significant blow to Green Bay, which improved to 3-2 with Sunday's defeat of the Ravens. Cobb is leading the team with 29 receptions for 378 yards with two touchdowns and also serves as the Packers' primary punt returner.

Rodgers confronted Elam on the field and explained his thought process afterward:

"I think he could have hit him in the proper hitting zone and that's what I told him," the All-Pro said.

To an offensive player these days, "the proper hitting zone" is akin to the strike zone in Major League's Baseball's steroid era, basically the 12-inch- or-so area from your waist to your thighs.

Baltimore coach John Harbaugh responded by taking exception with Rodgers' ridiculous take on Elam's legal hit.

"To say that it could have been more artistically palatable is pretty hard for me to understand," Harbaugh said Monday. "That's a fast route. They ran a pretty good route there. Aaron made a good, quick throw in there and Matt is doing the best he can to try to stop that play. So I have no idea what (Rodgers is) talking about."

Rodgers was talking about the butterfly effect that has made taking out the knees -- formally a no-no via unwritten rule in football etiquette -- not only acceptable but almost necessary.

Keeping defenseless receivers safe has been a point of emphasis for years, one that has made hits to the head a non-starter and virtually eliminated by decree of a 15-yard penalty along with a substantial fine.

On paper, it was a prudent idea with everything we now understand about concussions, but now all the big hitters searching for the knockout blow have been replaced by heat-seeking missiles like Elam aimed directly at the lower extremities.

"The other safety (James Ihedigbo) came over and actually made a very knowledgeable point, which I appreciated a little intelligent answer back and forth about some of the issues defensive players have to deal with (trying to hit) the target area," Rodgers said. "I totally understand that and get that."

If Rodgers really gets it, he understands Elam shouldn't have been penalized, isn't going be fined and he is down a receiver because of that precious "proper hitting zone" as it's now defined by the NFL.

Newton's laws of motion are clear: For every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.

Matt Elam's hit was the reaction to an untenable policy here and the only thing to blame for Cobb's injury is good intentions gone bad.


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THE GAMES - (All Times Eastern) - WEEK 7

Seattle (5-1) at Arizona (3-3), Thursday, 8:25 p.m.

LINE: Seahawks by 6 1/2

THE SKINNY: If the Cardinals plan to get involved in the NFC West race, it's imperative they hold serve at home when the division-leading Seattle Seahawks arrive for "Thursday Night Football." The rough and tumble West could very well be the NFL's toughest division and is currently the league's only one in which all four teams are at or above .500.

This game features two of the NFL's premier cornerbacks in Arizona's Patrick Peterson and Seattle's Richard Sherman. Both ball hawks are in their third NFL season and Peterson's 10 interceptions since 2012 are third in the NFL behind Sherman (11) and Chicago's Tim Jennings (12).

Seattle has been mortal away from the Pacific Northwest this season, rallying late to beat Carolina and Houston before stumbling in Indianapolis. Meanwhile, Arizona has the kind of defense that could make things difficult for the Seahawks' running game and has the revenge factor after the ugly 58-0 setback in the Pacific Northwest last season.

The Cardinals come in here as the far more desperate team and have a history of handling Seattle in the desert, so that makes Arizona the prudent pick here ... if Carson Palmer can play a somewhat clean game. And that's a big "if."

PREDICTION: Cardinals 23, Seahawks 20

Tampa Bay (0-5) at Atlanta (1-4), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Falcons by 7

THE SKINNY: Call the Falcons a Super Bowl contender gone awry thanks to injuries and ineptitude. The latest of example of Murphy's Law striking Dixie was the season-ending broken foot of All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones.

As bad as things are in Atlanta, though, they are even worse in Tampa, where things like MRSA and the Josh Freeman debacle have turned embattled head coach Greg Schiano into a dead man walking.

PREDICTION: Falcons 20, Buccaneers 10

St. Louis (3-3) at Carolina (2-3), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Panthers by 6

THE SKINNY: The Rams have rebounded to win two in a row, including last week's 38-13 rout at Houston in which St. Louis scored in all three phases, offense, defense and special teams.

"I think everyone totally bought in," said Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, who recorded a career-best 134.6 passer rating. "If you look at the way we've played the past two weeks, it's been a completely different mind-set and attitude."

Carolina had that same mind-set and attitude in Minneapolis a week ago as Cam Newton accounted for four touchdowns -- three passing, one rushing -- in the Panthers' 35-10 drubbing of the Vikings. The former Rookie of the Year joined former Viking Daunte Culpepper as the only quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era to record three games with at least three passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown during their first three NFL seasons.

"This is a team that understands the importance of where we are right now and where we can go," said Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith. "It's a team that seems to be waking up."

PREDICTION: Panthers 20, Rams 17

Cincinnati (4-2) at Detroit (4-2), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Lions by 3

THE SKINNY: Doppelgangers at the top of the AFC and NFC North meet in the Motor City as the 4-2 Bengals visit the 4-2 Lions. Cincinnati is alone atop its division after last week's hard-fought 27-24 overtime win at Buffalo. Quarterback Andy Dalton passed for 337 yards and three touchdowns in that one while kicker Mike Nugent booted the game-winning 43-yard field goal with 6:44 remaining in the extra period.

"We've done some good things," said Dalton of the team's recent play on offense. "It's nice for us to come out and score, move the ball well and do some good things, so we have to keep getting better and keep improving. That is what we are going to do."

Detroit, which has company atop the NFC North in Chicago, will be seeking to knock off its second straight AFC North foe after the team's Week 6 win at Cleveland. Matthew Stafford tossed four touchdown passes, including three to undrafted rookie tight end Joseph Fauria, who became the first tight end in franchise history with three TD receptions in a game. Defensively, linebacker DeAndre Levy had two interceptions and is now tied for the NFL lead with four this season.

PREDICTION: Bengals 21, Lions 20

San Diego (3-3) at Jacksonville (0-6), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Chargers by 7 1/2

THE SKINNY: It's been the Philip Rivers show for San Diego this season. The veteran QB has been spectacular, recording an NFL-high three 400-yard passing games and a 108.7 passer rating, second in all of football behind Peyton Manning. Rivers has done all that despite being without Danario Alexander (ACL) for the entire season and Malcom Floyd (neck) since Week 2. Rookie Keenan Allen is quickly turning into Rivers' top receiving threat and will be aiming for his third straight game with 100-plus receiving yards and a TD.

The hapless Jags were far more competitive than most thought against high-powered Denver a week ago thanks in large part to Chad Henne, who registered his 10th career 300-yard passing effort, and star receiver Justin Blackmon, who leads the NFL with 19 catches for 326 yards since returning from suspension in Week 5.

PREDICTION: Chargers 27, Jaguars 17

Buffalo (2-4) at Miami (3-2), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Dolphins by 8 1/2

THE SKINNY: The Bills signed QB Matt Flynn earlier this week, but coach Doug Marrone still expects Thad Lewis to be able to play Sunday after the Duke product sprained his foot in his second career start, an overtime loss to Cincinnati this past Sunday. Lewis, of course, is only playing because rookie starter E.J. Manuel is out with a knee sprain and his original backup. fellow freshman Jeff Tuel, was miserable in his first turn at the wheel. Lewis completed 19-of-32 passes for 216 yards with three TDs (two pass, one rush) against the Bengals.

He will greet a Miami team coming off its bye week and trying to halt a two- game skid. Since 1990, the Dolphins are 14-10 after a bye and second-year QB Ryan Tannehill tends to play better at home, completing 80-of-128 passes for 893 yards with seven TDs versus one interception and a 98.2 passer rating in his last four starts in the Sunshine State.

PREDICTION: Dolphins 27, Bills 17

New England (5-1) at New York Jets (3-3), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Patriots by 4

THE SKINNY: Injuries continue to pile up for New England as it shoots for its seventh consecutive win over the Jets and its 13th straight against AFC East foes. Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo was placed on injured reserve Wednesday after reportedly undergoing surgery for a torn pectoral muscle. Mayo was hurt during the fourth quarter of this past Sunday's game against New Orleans. The two-time Pro Bowl selection leads the Patriots with 55 tackles this season.

It's another significant loss for the New England defense, as star defensive tackle Vince Wilfork went on IR earlier this month because of a torn Achilles' tendon.

Last weekend, Bill Belichick surpassed Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll on the all-time list with his 210th victory, good for fifth in NFL lore. This weekend, it's Tom Brady's turn to make history. Brady, who beat the Saints with a late- game TD pass to rookie Kenbrell Thompkins, needs one more scoring pass to lap Fran Tarkenton (342) for forth-most in NFL history. Brady is 18-4 all-time against the Jets.

New York rookie Geno Smith is 2-1 as a starter at home and has been especially effective in the fourth quarter over the past month, completing 26-of-37 passes for 317 yards with three TDs and a 112.1 passer rating in the game's most important frame over that span.

PREDICTION: Patriots 23, Jets 20

Dallas (3-3) at Philadelphia (3-3), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Eagles by 3

THE SKINNY: First place in the NFC East will be on the line when the Eagles host the banged-up Cowboys, who will be without starting running back DeMarco Murray and star pass rusher DeMarcus Ware.

Dwayne Harris sparked Dallas last weekend with a 90-yard kickoff return and an 86-yard punt-return touchdown in the team's 31-16 win over Washington. The Cowboys lead the NFC with 183 points scored and Tony Romo's 108.6 passer rating is the highest mark in the NFC.

"The division games are big," Romo said. "We have a big one with Philadelphia. It's a tough place to play. They're playing tough football, so it'll be a good test for us. We'll be ready."

Philadelphia, meanwhile, has won two in a row after last weekend's 31-20 victory at Tampa Bay and will be going with second-year man Nick Foles at QB for the second consecutive week as Michael Vick continues to recover from a strained hamstring.

Running back LeSean McCoy leads the NFL with 630 rushing yards and 871 scrimmage yards and is the fulcrum of an offense which is the only one since the 1970 merger to gain at least 1,600 net passing yards (1,628) and 1,050 rushing yards (1,071) through the first six games of a season.

"I've seen improvement from where we started to where we are right now," said Philadelphia head coach Chip Kelly.

PREDICTION: Eagles 34, Cowboys 30

Chicago (4-2) at Washington (1-4), Sunday, 1 p.m.

LINE: Redskins by 1

THE SKINNY: Chicago and its opportunistic defense will try to stop a four-game losing streak to the Redskins, who are off to a dismal 1-4 start after winning the NFC East a season ago. The Bears "D" has not allowed a fourth-quarter TD this season, and since 2012 has 11 interception returns for TDs, most in the NFL. Cornerback Tim Jennings had two picks in a win over the New York Giants in Week 6 and leads the NFL with 12 since 2012.

Washington continues to struggle as Robert Griffin III feels his way back from the torn ACL he suffered in last season's playoffs. RG3's numbers have been fine but it's clear he has lacked some of the explosion and elusiveness that defined his game pre-injury.

PREDICTION: Bears 21, Redskins 16

San Francisco (4-2) at Tennessee (3-3), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.

LINE: 49ers by 4

THE SKINNY: The Titans have lost two straight behind veteran backup Ryan Fitzpatrick as Jake Locker continues to recover from hip and knee injuries he suffered on Sept. 29. Fitzpatrick is expected to make his third start on Sunday against the 49ers, although Locker has been cleared for football activities. The target for Locker's return remains the Nov. 3 game against the St. Louis Rams after the team's bye week.

The Niners, on the other hand, have won three straight and are looking stronger and stronger as they get healthier. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is the barometer for their success and is now 11-5 as the team's starter (including playoffs) with 94.1 rating and 674 rushing yards. When Kaepernick starts and has a 100-plus passer rating, the 49ers are 7-0.

PREDICTION: 49ers 29, Titans 17

Cleveland (3-3) at Green Bay (3-2), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

LINE: Packers by 10

THE SKINNY: Aaron Rodgers is running out of healthy receivers, but it won't matter much this weekend with Brandon Weeden and Cleveland coming to Titletown. A-Rod completed 15-of-20 passes for 246 yards with three TDs and a 155.4 passer rating in his only start against the Browns and has won 21 of his past 22 starts at home.

Cleveland hangs its hat on big-play WR Josh Gordon, who has 25 receptions for 429 yards and two TDs since returning from a suspension, along with Jordan Cameron, who leads all NFL tight ends with 38 receptions.

PREDICTION: Packers 31, Browns 16

Baltimore (3-3) at Pittsburgh (1-4), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

LINE: Steelers by 1

THE SKINNY: Football's version of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry renews in the Steel City with a little less luster. The reigning Super Bowl champion Ravens are a pedestrian 3-3, while the Steelers finally earned their first win last weekend against the Jets. Baltimore has won 13 of its last 15 against AFC North foes and will be searching for its fourth straight win in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers will continue to rely on star QB Ben Roethlisberger, who is an impressive 88-43 in his career as a starter and 9-5 versus the Ravens. "Big Ben" also needs just three TD passes to join Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw (212) as the only Steelers' signal callers with 200 TD throws.

PREDICTION: Steelers 17, Ravens 16

Houston (2-4) at Kansas City (6-0), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

LINE: Chiefs by 6 1/2

THE SKINNY: The Texans will be trying to halt an ugly four-game losing streak with a quarterback situation in flux. Matt Schaub is injured and has been ineffective, giving embattled head coach Gary Kubiak a decision to make. If Schaub can't go because of his balky ankle, then Kubiak could turn to either T.J. Yates, who played poorly after relieving Schaub in an embarrassing home loss to St. Louis last weekend, or Case Keenum, a popular Texas native who starred in college at the University of Houston.

Kansas City will be a tough task for any of them. The Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to start 6-0 after losing 14-plus games in the previous season and will be shooting for their first 7-0 start since 2003 (9-0). The K.C. defense is coming off a 10-sack performance against Oakland and has helped the team compile an NFL-best plus-12 turnover ratio. QB Alex Smith, meanwhile, is 25-5-1 as a starter in his last 31 games.

PREDICTION: Chiefs 23, Texans 14

Denver (6-0) at Indianapolis (4-2), Sunday, 8:30 p.m.

LINE: Broncos by 6 1/2

THE SKINNY: Peyton Manning returns to Indianapolis in search of his 17th straight regular-season win as the Broncos' starting QB. Manning posted a 141-67 regular-season record for Indianapolis, passing for 54,828 yards, 399 touchdowns and a 94.9 passer rating as he guided the Colts to the playoffs 11 times, including a victory in Super Bowl XLI. He hasn't slowed down in the Rockies and leads the NFL with 2,179 passing yards, 22 touchdowns -- the most ever through the first six games of a season -- and a 128.8 passer rating this year.

Denver improved to 6-0 last Sunday with a 35-19 win over Jacksonville and has scored 265 points, the most ever by a team through the first six games of a season. Manning passed for 295 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over the Jaguars while running back Knowshon Moreno rushed for three scores.

Manning's successor in Indy, Andrew Luck -- the No. 1 overall selection by the Colts in 2012 -- has won 15 of his first 22 career starts. He guided the Colts to the playoffs as a rookie a year ago and currently has the team in first place in the AFC South.

In Monday's loss at San Diego, Manning's former favorite target and Luck's current one, Reggie Wayne, reached 1,000 career catches (1,001), becoming the ninth player in NFL history to do so. The Colts -- with Wayne and Marvin Harrison (1,102) -- are the first team in NFL history to have two players with 1,000 receptions and Manning was a huge part of that.

PREDICTION: Broncos 34, Colts 27

Minnesota (1-4) at New York Giants (0-6), Monday, 8:40 p.m.

LINE: Giants by 3

THE SKINNY: If the Giants are ever going to get it done, this is probably the week. The Vikings figure to turn to their third QB of the season, talented but enigmatic ex-Bucs starter Josh Freeman. But unless Freeman also can line up at cornerback, defensive tackle and linebacker, it might not matter.

Minnesota's defense is giving up 31.6 points per game (30th in the NFL), 308 passing yards per contest (29th) and 418 total yards (31st). And the one thing the Giants can do is throw the football. Victor Cruz has 14 catches for 261 yards and two TDs in his past two "Monday Night Football" games, while Hakeem Nicks had seven catches for 96 yards in his last meeting against the Vikings. Also up-and-comer Reuben Randle has nine catches for 171 yards and three TDs over his last two contests.

PREDICTION: Giants 33, Vikings 24