I had a go-to costume at the ready back in the college-Halloween days. Backup quarterback. Put on a football jersey, grab some headphones or a clipboard, get cozy with a cheerleader and find the keg. No one, after all, is more popular than the backup quarterback. (Okay, I did better with the kegs than the cheerleaders; not everyone can live the dream like Chris Cooley.)
The job is a lot more serious in today's NFL. Some teams have the goods at the position, others don't. A talented, system-ready guy at the position can save your offense, but the wrong fit basically grounds your entire scheme, both in fantasy and reality.
Let's have a quick look around the league and see what we make of the temporary No. 2's stepping into the big chair, along with a Pianow Backup Index (PBI) for each QB (an unscientific number which roughly reflects how much fantasy production the offense should retain with the reserve playing).
Stay in the fast lane: Sage Rosenfels is what he is, not good enough to really be a permanent starter, but one heck of a backup. He'll keep you in the game with 2-3 throws, then break your heart with the big mistake. But most of the league would be wise to find a guy like him for next year; when you can keep your offense at the same mph with your backup under center, it's a huge advantage. From a fantasy perspective, the Texans keep most of their offensive juice while Rosenfels subs for the injured Matt Schaub (torn MCL, could be a month, could be the season). PBI: 95 percent.
Slow down, we're almost at the exit: Say this for Matt Cassel and Ryan Fitzpatrick, they've studied well, paid attention at all those meetings. For the most part the decision making is good, and they can keep the chains moving. But where are the big plays, the intermediate and deep throws? How many 15-play touchdown drives can you really assemble? Maybe Cassel and Fitzpatrick don't have the confidence to pull the trigger, or perhaps they're wise to realize the limitations on their skills. But there's no denying that the Patriots and the Bengals can't get anything going downfield, despite excellent skill guys on the outside. Cassel essentially turned Randy Moss into a No. 2 receiver this year. PBI: 70 percent.
When is the lease up again?: I didn't think the Browns would make a QB switch in Week 10, given they have just one normal practice day before Thursday night's match with Denver, but I don't make the decisions there. Hello Brady, take a seat Derek. It's not all Derek Anderson's fault, of course; as you read this, Braylon Edwards is probably dropping another pass. But the Brady Quinn we saw in the summer didn't look anywhere close to ready. Of course, Denver's mess of a pass defense will mask some of this Thursday PBI: 65 percent of last year's haul, or 95 percent of this year's.
Surprising mileage, but not sporty enough: Dan Orlovsky has played well enough to keep the job, on an audition basis, for the rest of the year in Detroit. Instead, he has to look over his shoulder and wonder when Daunte Culpepper will get a chance. There's probably a good time and place for Culpepper to re-enter the NFL, but I don't understand why Detroit would make this play. PBI: 80 percent for Orlovsky (remember Jon Kitna wasn't doing anything); 50 percent for Culpepper. (And now it turns out Orlovsky apparently is hurt, so let's add this: 40 percent for Drew Stanton.)
Just pull over and call AAA: Let's remember Brad Johnson for what he was, a professional quarterback, occasional Pro Bowler, steady hand for one championship team. In his day, this was one rock-solid guy. But watching him drown the Dallas passing game the last three weeks has been painful. PBI: 40 percent.
Turn up the radio so we can't hear the knocks: Okay, I'll say it, Rex Grossman looked pretty solid at times in the comeback win over Detroit. Maybe it's because he entered the game with no real expectations. (Tuesday addendum: I've given the game a second viewing A to Z and actually he played like dirt; that's what I get for watching too many games at once Sunday. E - Pianow.) My biggest knock on Grossman has been how he plays when he falls behind against a legitimate opponent; that's when Bad Rex seems to take over, balls get forced, pocket awareness fades away. Please hurry back, Kyle Orton. PBI: 70 percent.
Tyler Thigpen, you ask? That's another column entirely. Let's leave the pocket for now and see what else is up around the league.
• The Giants know what they're doing with their backfield. Pound away with Brandon Jacobs, then watch Derrick Ward zip past and through tired, uninterested defenders (I'm looking at you, Mike Jenkins). We don't want to over-estimate how good Ward really is – it's easier to run in the second half than it is the first half – but for a straight-line runner, he brings a lot of juice. And most teams wish they had a backup as explosive as New York's No. 3, Ahmad Bradshaw.
It's important that the Giants collected seven wins from the first half of their schedule because the second potion is ridiculously difficult. There's not an easy game on the slate, and the opponents are a collective 41-24.
• A star quarterback can make an offensive line look a lot better than it really is, especially in pass blocking, but what's happened to the beef up front in Dallas? Wasn't this supposed to be an elite group? You know the holes aren't there when a physical, play-finishing back like Marion Barber checks in at 3.9 yards a carry. The Cowboys have a reasonable November schedule after the bye, but December spawns a monster (Steelers, Giants, Ravens, Eagles).
• What happened to Bill Belichick Sunday night? Wasting timeouts, several puzzling decisions, a guy we're not used to seeing.
• Marvin Harrison is the fifth or sixth-most important skill player in the Colts offense. The circus leaves town for everyone eventually.
• The Jets got the offense back in balance this week and that's where it's going to have to stay if they're going to compete for a playoff spot. Maybe it's the age, maybe it's the collection of injuries, but Brett Favre can't be the lead of an offense anymore, not every week. He's leaving stuff on the field every Sunday. (In truth, Favre isn't even the most important New York addition of the year - Kris Jenkins means more to the defense.)
• You learn a lot about a quarterback watching him play without the benefit of a consistent ground game. David Garrard has been passable at times this year, but he's not someone who can carry an offense when other elements aren't working.
• Anytime I slide a weak song or record in my i-Pod, the shuffle exposes the weakness, quickly and emphatically. It's eerie how that works.
• Anyone who had doubts about Aaron Rodgers, rewatch what he did at Tennessee against the NFL's best defense. Just one touchdown, sure, but the Pack consistently moved the ball and better days are ahead. He's the genuine article. I'm also starting to get cautiously optimistic about Ryan Grant, he's starting to look a little like the back we saw in 2007.
• We all knew Chris Johnson had the jets, but I don't think anyone knew he'd be this good inside the tackles, and this durable. In a monster year for rookie backs, he's at the head of the class.
• I was wondering why the Falcons exposed Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood to 46 touches Sunday, but that's what happens when you have the ball for 45 minutes. Oakland looked like a team in point-shaving mode from the opening whistle.
• Say this for Ken Whisenhunt, he's been proactive with his personnel decisions. He could have hung out Matt Leinart for a messy month or so, but he went to Kurt Warner in August. And a lot of coaches would have waited longer on Edgerrin James, but Whisenhunt went to the bullpen before the fire got out of control. A winning move, a proactive move.
• Bernard Berrian drops a pass here and there but at the end of the day I have to give props to someone who's consistently made plays with the likes of Gus Frerotte and Rex Grossman. If Berrian played with Drew Brees or Peyton Manning, he'd be on the cusp of the Pro Bowl.
• We had five or six bags of candy ready to go Friday night and maybe 20 kids came by the Casa de Pianow. I wish we had ways to predict the turnout. Every visitor got multiple treats from the candy bowl, in part because of the comically-shrinking size of Halloween candy these days. Maybe next year, we'll do magic tricks.
• My day started with three minutes of dynamite in my ears, and I kept hitting replay. Whatever "it" happens to be, they got it.