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Sunday, November 28, 2004

 
Thanksgiving's games went exactly as expected. Julius Jones showed why Dallas knew exactly what they were doing when they traded out of the first round in order to draft him. Had he not been injured, the past two months could have gone much differently for them. Meanwhile, Peyton Manning continues to carve his name in the record books. Were he a player who sought personal acclaim, he could have easily stayed in and broke the NFL record for td passes in a game. Detroit had no hope of stopping him. Manning is redefining greatness in the 2004 season.

Houston

With Steve McNair back, this is a fascinating matchup. Houston's defense is wholly unable to stop the pass, and Derrick Mason is tied for the lead in the NFL in receptions. It would seem that the tandem could toast Houston repeatedly, but I believe the concerns the Titans have on the offensive line and in the secondary will prevent them from winning in Houston. Plus, the Texans always seem to be fired up for the grudge matches against the organization that dumped them for Nashville.

San Diego

Tony Gonzalez reinvented the Tight End position with his basketball-enhanced athleticism. Now, he finds himself in uncharted territory. Tony G will be the less productive TE in this game as he faces the other man tied for the most receptions in football, Antonio Gates. All season long, I have underestimated the Chargers while overestimating the Chiefs, but that ends here. I believe that a healthy LT and an injured Priest Holmes is a poisonous combination for Dick Vermeil's struggling squad. The fact is that until they get special teams fixed and Dante Hall liberated from would-be tacklers in his face, the Chiefs are doomed.

Philadelphia

I loved the way Eli Manning played last week. Facing an overwhelming number of drops, he maintained poise and showed tremendous grace under pressure. In point of fact, he was harder on himself after the game than the New York media was on him, probably a historical first. Little things like changing the cadence to draw opponents offsides and avoiding sacks demonstrate that he is not in over his head nor is he playing scared. Compare that to the play of someone like Craig Krenzel this season or Byron Leftwich last year to see how unique these traits are for a rookie. The NFL plays exponentially faster than college. Any time a first year player seems anything but awed by the speed, he's a stud. Having said all that, the Eagles are going to blitz the living daylights out of him tomorrow. He's going to get his ass kicked.

Pittsburgh

Coming into this season, Clinton Portis averaged 5.5 yards a carry for his career, a historically unprecedented total. He took to wearing a championship belt to drive home his self-perceived superiority. His first touch of the 2004 season, a defensive breakdown by Tampa Bay, yielded a 64 yard run. Since that lone highlight, Portis has averaged 3.6 yards a carry. Meanwhile, Denver's backup fullback coming into the season leads the AFC in yards per carry. Were this the WWE, a ceremony would be held where Portis is stripped of the belt. The reality is that he is a decent NFL back who is electric in the open field. When, however, he is required to make his own yardage, Portis is subpar if not terrible. Washington overpaid to trade for him, overpaid him in salary, and are now forced to try to use him against a 3-4 defense built primarily to stop this sort of rushing attack. Even with Burress out for the Steelers and Roethlisberger looking vulnerable last week, this still appears to be a matchup nightmare for Joe Gibbs, a man who sorely misses the world of restrictor plates right now.

Tampa Bay

Both the Bucs and the Panthers have been talking playoffs this week. FYI for Carolina: the next step is anger then finally acceptance. If you are stuck with this game, here are a couple of things to look for. Julius Peppers is having a sensational year. I must grudingly admit Michael Pittman, the most vile man in the league, has been extraordinary since his return from suspension for spousal abuse. Michael Clayton is a stud. And Brian Griese somehow makes the Bucs play better than they are. Plus, Brad Hoover remains one of the most admirable players in the league. That's it. From there, you are on your own.

Minnesota

I called this an elimination game in the power rankings the other day, and I meant it. With the Colts winning, the Jags have to win in order to keep pace. Otherwise, they are stuck chasing a wild card and in the AFC, they probably have a better chance winning the division than they do getting one of the two extra playoff spots. With Manning playing this way, though, even that division title feels like a long shot. Winning keeps them a game back but losing at Minnesota puts them two games back with five games to play. Good luck with that. For Minnesota's part, they showed some fight last week. The combination of the emotional lift from Moss's return plus the home crowd's passion should be enough to carry them in this one. I just don't think the Jags can score with the Vikes, and the Jacksonville defense has fallen apart.

Atlanta

Mike Vick always seems to save his best performances for his cousin Aaron Brooks. The Falcons have been inconsistent all season and have yet to display killer instinct. Despite this, I still feel this game could be a blowout. The Saints defense has less heart than the Tin Man.

Seattle

If you want a dark horse candidate for MVP, look no further than Shaun Alexander. He is leading NFL RBs in yards per carry, is second in rushing TDs, and seems to always come up huge when the Seahawks are struggling. Despite all this, Buffalo makes me nervous. Their defense has the sixth best rushing defense in the league. If Alexander is shut down and Hasselbeck is shaky/inactive, the Bills could easily pull off the road win. I would pick them if I could only find a touch of faith in Drew Bledsoe...but I can't.

New York Jets

The Jets miss Chad Pennington the way that Rod Stewart misses Rachel Hunter (is that her on the New Gilligan's Island commercials?). It could be worse, though. Dennis Green inexplicably created a QB controversy last week, starting Shaun King instead of Josh McCown. King responded by reminding everyone why he has not started a game in several years, throwing three first half interceptions. Green is a masterful foundation builder as demonstrated by the productivity his 2004 draft class has had. He is not, however, a great coach, and never has been. The Cardinals had momentum right until Green micro-managed. King will cost them another game, then the experiment will be over just in time to kill Arizona's playoff hopes.

Miami

These two teams are playing for unusual stakes even if both of them deny it. The loser of this game will in all likelihood pick #1 in the 2005 draft. Based on their recent track record, I half expect the 49ers to mess even that up by winning. But I think Miami is better than their record while the 49ers are not. Even in SF, I expect the Dolphins to come through. It's probably for the best. The last thing they need is to draft Matt Leinart and create an even murkier QB situation.

New England

Were Jamal Lewis healthy, I would go the other way with this. As it stands, I still strongly considered it. The Patriots secondary is more beat up than Angela Bassett midway through What's Love Got To Do With It. They are susceptible to the pass to the point that the Colts are probably lobbying the NFL to start the playoffs right now. Even worse, New England catches Kyle Boller at a time when he is gaining confidence and playing well. 6-6 rookie Clarence Moore leads a pack of emerging role players who Boller can easily find downfield. Brian Billick has been calling some more wide open plays, and the payoff has been significant. I expect the Ravens to do surprisingly well on offense, but the corollary here is that the Pats know they need points. They will do exactly what they did Monday night, attack down the field on offense and create quick strike scores. This will be a much higher scoring game than people might expect.

Denver

See above re: Droughns. He gashed the Raiders for 176 yards last time and needs 156 this time to reach 1,000 on the year. Plus, Mike Shanahan always enjoys shoving his success down the throat of the man who once fired him, Al Davis. It's just not Oakland's year. Again.

Green Bay

I think both of these teams make the playoffs. At this moment, though, I do not believe any team in the NFC is playing as well as the Packers. Even without Ahman Green, I would like their chances. Since it sounds like he will play, this becomes a bit of a no-brainer.

Karma.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

 
Rather than do a truncated prediction post today, I decided to focus on the Thursday games for now. I will do a second post on Saturday involving Sunday fare.

Indianapolis

The prime matchup of the day is Indianapolis at Detroit. Unfortunately, the reason why is less about Peyton Manning and more about Ron Artest. The odds that the two cities would have an NFL matchup so soon after their NBA riot must be astronomical.

This side issue takes the focus away from what it should be: the record-shattering QB play of Manning. After only ten games (62.5% of the season), he is already seventh all-time for TD passes in a season with 35. He could be in the top five by the time the tryptophan has kicked in. Now, he is fed an underachieving Detroit defense which is 22nd against the pass and 24th overall. Even worse, Detroit's offense is dead last in the league, and Indy's defense has hit its stride recently. That should equal a ton of opportunities for the Colts, meaning that the team is more likely to throw down 40+ points than it is to lose to the Lions.

Dallas

It would be easy to pick the Bears here. The wheels have come off for the Cowboys, and now they are forced to start a rookie who has been out of football for a while. Were it not for the fact that the Bears are in the same boat, I would not have picked the Boys. But the reality is that Craig Krenzel has turned the ball over a stupefying 11 times in four games. Six of those are through fumbles, so even if you think the Cowboys are too awful in the secondary to capitalize on picks, he still appears vulnerable to the elements. Julius Jones is about to introduce himself to America on Thanksgiving, and I expect his play to be the difference in the game.

 
Due to the time crunch, I am going to offer a more conventional (read: less verbose) set of power rankings this week.

1) Pittsburgh Steelers

I will continue flip-flopping them and the Patriots until one of them loses. With the problems the Pats have in the secondary, it's hard to argue they could beat the Steelers at the moment.

2) New England Patriots

But you have to deeply admire the way the Pats beat one of the best offenses in football while having to start Randall Gay and especially Earthwind Moreland (who was beaten more often than Bing Crosby's kids).

3) Philadelphia Eagles

We will find out a lot more about their ability to stop the run this weekend when Tiki Barber hits town.

4) Atlanta Falcons

You hate to look too far ahead due to their track record of disappointments, but the remaining six games for the Falcons are much easier than Philly's sextet. Home field advantage is much more important to a rising team than a three time NFC championship game finisher.

5) Indianapolis Colts

Their defense has quietly been sensational the past two weeks. Is this a fluke or is Dungy getting the ship righted? +12 in turnovers leads the NFL.

6) Denver Broncos

Forget the ground attack for a minute. Consider that Rod Smith and Ashley Lelie are averaging 130 yards a game combined. This team might be the most complete in football.

7) Baltimore Ravens

They just cannot get healthy this year. The fact that they are 7-3 anyway is amazing. God help the rest of the AFC if Boller continues to play like this.

8) San Diego Chargers

At the end of last season, I was talking up Antonio Gates more than his own family was. But I never ever never thought he would become this dominant this fast.

9) Green Bay Packers

Over the course of their five-game win streak, they have looked like the team I had expected them to be when I anointed Favre and Co. NFC champions in the preseason.

10) NY Jets

If Pennington's injury does require season-ending surgery, they are screwed. Carter looks like exactly what he is: a guy who got cut in August.

11) Seattle Seahawks

Buffalo just did the Hawks a huge favor. Seven days later, they are the enemy. If Hasselbeck can't go, the absence of Koren Robinson will not even matter. It will be Shaun Alexander and a cloud of dust.

12) Minnesota Vikings

Nice job stopping the bleeding. Your game with the team below is probably going to equal elimination for the loser.

13) Jacksonville Jaguars

I have been one of the harshest critics of the ability of Byron Leftwich. I would not be honest, though, if I did not acknowledge how much I love his heart and his willingness to play hurt. His skill is overhyped but his grit has been undersold.

14) St. Louis Rams

No one in the NFC save the Eagles and Falcons wins consistently. But the Rams are taking this notion to extremes with their win one, lose one philosophy. Sadly, 8-8 might get an NFC team into the playoffs.

15) New York Giants

Eli Manning had me scared Sunday. He was fearless in the face of the innumerable obstacles caused by the sloppy play of teammates. The team's remaining schedule is likely to humble him, though. There are only about six QBs in the league I think could handle New York's remaining schedule with aplomb.

16) Buffalo Bills

It's probably too late, but this team has definitely found its identity.

17) Houston Texans

What in the blue hell happened to Domanick Davis during the off-season?

18) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If 8-8 is good enough to make the playoffs, this team only needs to take four out of six down the stretch to put itself into the tiebreakers.

19) Arizona Cardinals

Last Sunday, Dennis Green reminded me why I have never liked him as a coach. They were poised to make a move right until he benched the QB who had them fighting. Shaun King promptly gave the ball away like it was a Black Friday sale.

20) Cincinnati Bengals

Carson Palmer had a dramatic relapse on Sunday. The Al Wilson INT was unforgivable. At least Chad Johnson earned some money for charity while they were getting drubbed.

21) Chicago Bears

If only Rex Grossman had not gotten hurt or Brian Urlacher could stay healthy. This team is close.

22) Tennessee Titans

Superman showed up Sunday, and the results were a return to normalcy. I would love to watch Steve McNair and Brett Favre play a game of Ping Pong. You could break both their arms but they would still keep fighting each other.

23) New Orleans Saints

Jim Haslett has less job security than the sole remaining guy on Survivor this season.

24) Detroit Lions

In November, they are getting chopped down faster than a forest full of Christmas trees.

25) Kansas City Chiefs

I don't want to say Tony Gonzalez was mugged Monday night, but Bill Belicheck returned his wallet after the game.

26) Carolina Panthers

Two straight wins is admirable, but the reality is that all they have accomplished is to lower their draft status.

27) Cleveland Browns

I love that Butch Davis is actively campaigning for the LSU job in anticipation of his termination in favor of Nick Saban. Has there ever been a college/NFL trade of head coaches before?

28) Washington Redskins

They can't run, they can't pass and their defense is not as good as people seem to think. If not for Gregg Williams, this would be one of the worst seasons in franchise history. As it is, they need to have a focused, constructive offseason. Depth has been a killer and the cap is about to become an issue.

29) Dallas Cowboys

It's not like Bill Parcells can blame anybody else for buying the groceries.

30) Oakland Raiders

Rather than gripe about their incompetence, I will simply say that I love their NFL Network commercial. It's better than the two Star Wars prequels combined.

31) Miami Dolphins

If Ricky Williams does come back, we need another Real World season in Miami. Of course, the rest of the team cannot hold a grudge for too long. Ricky is bound to know all the best *ahem* connections on South Beach.

32) San Francisco 49ers

On top of all the other nonsense, now Kevan Barlow has forgotten how to run the ball. Also, unless Miami wins again, they still are not going to pick 1st in the draft due to the strength of schedule tiebreaker. San Francisco as an organization has officially hit rock bottom.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

 
Kim and I both had sensational weeks, but I think a lot of that may be attributed to an unusual amount of mismatches combined with few upsets. Kim went 14-2 while I went 13-3. Overall, I currently stand at 98-62 while Kim is right in front of me at 99-61 on the season. Below is a breakdown of our weekly performances:

David:

Week 1: 9-7
Week 2: 11-5
Week 3: 8-6
Week 4: 7-7
Week 5: 8-6
Week 6: 10-4
Week 7: 8-6
Week 8: 8-6
Week 9: 5-9
Week 10: 11-3
Week 11: 13-3

Overall: 98-62, an accuracy of 61.25%.


Kim:

Week 1: 11-5
Week 2: 9-7
Week 3: 10-4
Week 4: 7-7
Week 5: 5-9
Week 6: 11-3
Week 7: 6-8
Week 8: 9-5
Week 9: 9-5
Week 10: 8-6
Week 11: 14-2

Overall: 99-61, an accuracy of 61.875%

I took a moment to compare our performances to those of the various experts at ESPN. We are way ahead of Joe Theisman and my beloved Mark Schlereth (best commentator in football). We are a handful of games ahead of the talented NFC Matchup crew of Hoge and Jaws. Neither of us can match up with Mike Golic, who is three games ahead of Kim and four up on me. All in all, I'm rather proud of our performance to date, even if both of us are well behind our 2003 pace at this point. You may recall that Kim picked 78% of games correctly last year. There was simply no way for her to ever duplicate that once in a lifetime feat again, but I am a bit bummed that I have not improved my lot a bit from last year.

With Thursday games and the holiday, I have no idea what I will be able to get accomplished with power rankings and predictions. We have a Thanksgiving site update that requires a bit of attention, and I will be spending the holiday with my family about an hour and a half from here. That leaves me with little time to get a football update done.

Karma.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

 
This week's NFL picks:

This is one of those weeks that scares me. A lot of the choices appear clear cut. In a parity league, there is no such thing, hence the concern. Go overdogs!

Pittsburgh Steelers

I do not understand why opponents of the Steelers are so lippy. This is a brutal bunch who beats teams up. Anybody talking smack coming in strikes me as afraid of Pitt but trying to cover it. And let's be honest about Chad Johnson for a second. Jealousy is eating him alive after T.O. got the MNF spotlight all week. All you have to do is play for a winner, Chad.

(Kim's pick: Pittsburgh)


Baltimore Ravens

I never thought I would live to see the day when a Bill Parcells team quit, but that is exactly what we had Monday night. The real surprise is how porous their secondary is. That was played up as a strength in the offseason, but the only guy who has been beaten more recently than Terrence Newman is Evander Holyfield.

(Kim's pick: Baltimore)


NJ Jets

Here's hoping the game does not come down to clock management. Quincy Carter was apparently too stoned last week to realize letting 35 seconds run off was a bad thing.

(Kim's pick: NY Jets)


St. Louis Rams

This is a trap game for Mike Martz and co. This is exactly the sort of game where they have had a tendency to slip up in recent years, and Buffalo is showing signs of life. I just can't pick against the team I think is better, though, since weather is not a factor.

(Kim's pick: Buffalo)


Arizona Cardinals

Josh McCown has been benched, so all is not well in Arizona despite the recent hot streak. My guess is that Dennis Green did not expect to be this close to a winner in year one, so he did not want to take any chances against a struggling Carolina unit. Jake Delhomme's heath is enough to worry about Carolina, though.

(Kim's pick: Arizona)


Indianapolis Colts

Without Urlacher roaming the middle, there is nothing stopping Peyton Manning. Even worse, Chicago does not have the type of offense to keep up with the Colts offense.

(Kim's pick: Indianapolis)


Jacksonville Jaguars

By this point, Tennessee's injury situation is like a bad season of ER. Billy Volek is the new Doug Johnson, too. He was great in relief last year, but has been wildly inconsistent in Steve McNair's absence.

(Kim's pick: Jacksonville)


Minnesota Vikings

This is the sort of pick that makes me nervous. The Lions have won on the road this year while the Vikings have not won anywhere lately. At some point, Minnesota has to start playing up to their talent level, and I think that starts again today.

(Kim's pick: Minnesota)


Denver Broncos

I refuse to pick the Saints on principle these days. Even if I were tempted, I love this Broncos team.

(Kim's pick: Denver)


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The rules specificallt state that somebody has to win.

(Kim's pick: Tampa Bay)


San Diego Chargers

After the way the Chargers humiliated the Raiders three weeks ago, Oakland is playing for pride. But that only goes so far. I expect a closer game but that's about it.

(Kim's pick: San Diego)


Seattle Seahawks

Jim Bates might make all the difference in the world. And the Supreme Court might give Ohio to Kerry.

(Kim's pick: Seattle)


Atlanta Falcons

With all due respect to David Carr, Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger, these are the two best QBs to hit the NFL in the 2000s. Unfortunately, the matchup comes before Eli Manning has had a chance to get the speed of the league figured out. A year from now, this would be a classic confrontation. They are both barely legal for alcohol consumption, so this won't be the last time we get this face-off. The teams are heading in different directions this season unless Eli can right the ship.

(Kim's pick: Atlanta)


Philadelphia Eagles

My pick for blowout of the week.

(Kim's pick: Philadelphia)


Green Bay Packers

Favre's offense is not quite Manning's, but it is on that level. The Texans need to plug some holes fast if they want to avoid a repeat of last week's atrocity.

(Kim's pick: Green Bay)


New England

Trent Green is quietly having a great month, passing for 300+ yards in four out of the last 5 games. How can Kansas City run this well, pass this well and lose this often? It just doesn't make sense, but drawing the Pats at this point is brutal.

(Kim's pick: New England)

 
NFL Power Rankings

1) New England Patriots

Yes, the Steelers beat them a couple of weeks ago. When push comes to shove, though, this team has lost once in a season and a half. In fact, NE has been more dominant since they lost than they had been during the streak. Both teams have the same record, so the tie goes to the defending champs.

2) Pittsburgh Steelers

Eventually, they are going to run into somebody who mortgages the farm to stop the run. When that happens, the league will find out what Big Ben's krytonite is.

3) Philadelphia Eagles

I am not a T.O. fan but both the MNF bits with Nicolette Sheridan and Donovan McNabb were hysterical.

4) Atlanta Falcons

I have said it before and I will say it again. Rod Coleman was the most important free agent signing of the offseason. He's a schoolyard bully and every offensive lineman in football has forked over their lunch money.

5) Denver Broncos

The scary thought for the rest of the league is this. While Rod Smith has been on a tear, Ashley Lelie has quietly proved the deep threat the team has been lacking for years. 32 receptions at 17.7 yards per catch? Are you kidding me?

6) SD Chargers

Their success is incredible, but the Phillip Rivers draft choice only gets worse with each passing week. On the one hand, they had Drew Brees and on the other, they could have accumulated more picks and still wound up with Roethlisberger. Oops.

7) Indianapolis Colts

Through nine games, Peyton Manning is not just the MVP for this season but for all time. Records are getting shattered faster than glasses at an opera house.

8) Baltimore Ravens

Does Ed Reed get paid overtime for all these 100+ yard returns? The scary thought for Ravens opposition is that it's just about time for Jamal Lewis to get untracked and Todd Heap is almost healthy.

9) NJ Jets

That is one game that Chad Pennington's absence cost the team. Hopefully, there won't be many more but right about now, NFL bystanders are appreciating just how good he is while being reminded just how stupidly Quincy Carter plays.

10) St. Louis Rams

A deal is a deal. Beating the Seahawks twice helps a lot but the bigger concern down the stretch just might be the Cardinals. The Faulk/Jackson duo is starting to find its sea legs, though.

11) Jacksonville Jaguars

This team gets so lucky at the end of the game that you would swear they were the Jacksonville Leprechauns. You have to love the grit of their QBs, though. Leftwich is angling to play on an leg that probably needs surgery. Meanwhile, Garrard almost *died* in the offseason yet he has not skipped a beat on the field. Leadership starts at the top, and the Jags have it in spades.

12) Green Bay

Brett Favre's mother got sick yesterday and had to be hospitalized. On a related note, Job was quoted as saying that he is thankful he does not have Brett Favre's luck. But this team is firing on all cylinders, anyway.

13-t) Seattle Seahawks
13-t) Minnesota Vikings

Never have two 5-4 teams seemed to have underachieved as greatly as this tandem. The fact that as things currently stand they both appear likely to make the playoffs speaks volumes speaks volumes about the mediocrity of NFC football.

15) NY Giants

Eli Manning is the best SEC QB I ever saw (or at the very least tied with his brother). Unfortunately for him, the Giants have lost their only two great players on the defensive line. Also bad is that his first three opponents are Atlanta, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Here's hoping the kid doesn't bruise easily.

16) Arizona Cardinals

That's right. Only 15 out of 32 teams have winning records at the moment. Out of the losers, the Cardinals are among the most upwardly mobile. Josh McCown needs to step up, though.

17) Chicago Bears

This team is night and day better when Brian Urlacher plays. That is a problem because he is gone for the body of the season. You have to love the way this team fights, though...even if they are going to get violated on Sunday.

18) Cincinnati Bengals

Don't get your hopes up too far, Bengals fans. They have the hardest remaining schedule in the league.

19) Detroit Lions

The team quietly moved to address the running game woes last week. Kevin Jones was given all the carries, and he responded with the best game of his fledgling career. A breakout game cannot be very far away.

20) New Orleans Saints

Call it paranoia if you must, but I am convinced that this team's entire season has been nothing more than an effort to spite me. Every time I say something nice about them, they choke. Every time I quit on them, they get a decent win. I grow weary of the backbiting. It's like having an entire team of mother-in-laws.

21) Houston Texans

I have ranked them lowest out of the 4-5 teams this week because I am mad at them. The performance against the Colts was a stark reminder of just how young and inconsistent this team can be. They have the talent to win, but they need to find the confidence. And the pass defense.

22) Cleveland Browns

Out of the 3-6 teams, this is the one that has shown the most heart this season. Last Sunday, all they had was spit, though.

23) Tampa Bay Bucs

They nearly overcame a 17-0 deficit on the road, but their lack of confidence in Martin Gramatica killed them. Going for it on 4th and 1 instead of kicking a 45 yard field goal to tie wound up being the difference between regaining hope in the NFC South vs. playing for pride from here on out.

24) Buffalo Bills

Willis McGahee appears to be the answer. Travis Henry appears likely to bring back the draft pick lost for JP Losman. The rookie QB appears to be a dramatic overpay. The speed of an NFL football game flat out humiliated him.

25) Washington Redskins

Truth be told, I don't even like the defense as much as everyone else does. I expect them to get exposed quite a bit this Sunday against a potent offensive unit.

26-t) Tennessee Titans
26-t) Kansas City Chiefs

I have overrated these teams more than anyone else in 2004. The only team I have misjudged worse is SD, a group I honestly expected to win four games or less. The Chiefs are almost exactly the same as last year. The sole difference is that they are no longer creating scores on special teams. Mayhap the arguments about Dante Hall for MVP in 2003 were less ludicrous than I previously assumed. As for the Titans, key injuries and inexperience have reduced Jeff Fisher to playing rookies to see who will have a career in this league.

28) Dallas Cowboys

I am 100% certain that Bill Parcells would go on a 51 person killing spree if only he could create enough alibis. The only people safe from his rage would be Jason Witten and Vinny Testaverde. No, I don't understand the latter one, either. Maybe Vinny's cousin is Tony Soprano.

29) Oakland Raiders

Word is that Al Davis covets Drew Brees. I find it humorous that this team entered 2004 with two top notch, proven QBs yet now they are desirous of a kid that even his own team didn't trust coming into the season.

30) Miami Dolphins

Congratulations on getting out with your sanity still in tact, Dave Wannstedt. Others might have forgotten you won at least ten games in three of the past four seasons, but I sure haven't.

31) Carolina Panthers

Beating SF moves them out of cellar. The game unfolded exactly as the blueprint worked in my head. Carolina only succeeded once they dropped all attempts to run. After that, exploiting the secondary led to bunches of scorers. Other teams can play the pass better, but I still expect the Panthers to try this strategy for the rest of the season. They are too slow at RB to try anything else.

32) SF 49ers

They lost to a 1-8 team. At home. I miss Joe Montanta.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

 
This week's picks:

Baltimore

The Ravens defense is the worst possible one for Quincy Carter to draw in his first game with the Jets. His natural skills involve mobility and deep passing. A team with legendary linebackers and the best secondary in football negates both of those traits.

(Kim's pick: Baltimore)


Tennessee

Craig Krenzel vs. Billy Volek? *THIS* is our 1 p.m. game tomorroow? My God, I never thought I would miss NFL Sunday Ticket this much. I love where I live, but I am for damn sure moving by next football season. In the end, I think that the inexperience of Chicago will prove fatal at Tennessee. It's one of the few places in the league where home field can still make a difference.

(Kim's pick: Tennessee)


Jacksonville

A lot of people are getting off the Jaguars bandwagon with Leftwich out. The schedule does them a favor in the first game of the David Garrard era, though. The Lions are showing signs of the wheels coming off.

(Kim's pick: Detroit)


Indianapolis

The Colts have gotten worse instead of better on defense. The Texans have developed a potent passing game. This looks to be a shootout. It's just hard to pick against Peyton Manning in those...but admittedly that is what got me into trouble in the Chiefs game.

(Kim's pick: Indianapolis)


Kansas City

I don't think I have picked a Chiefs game right this year. I was tempted to just flip a coin here as an acknowledgement of my failure to date. That would have been the easy way out, though. I will take the further humiliation as a badge of honor.

(Kim's pick: Kansas City)


Pittsburgh

This has all the makings of a trap game. It's a divisional rivalry which has simmered for decades. Coming off the emotional highs against two undefeated teams, a team led by a rookie QB is likely to have an emotional letdown here. The Browns are running with confidence, and Jeff Garcia looks a lot more comfortable these days. An upset would not surprise me, but it's hard to pick against the Steelers right now.

(Kim's pick: Pittsburgh)


St. Louis

Both teams annoy me with their inconsistencies. The Seahawks melted down against the Rams last month, but I can't decide which team that favors. Do the Hawks use it as motivation or do the Rams simply have their number? I vote for the latter.

(Kim's pick: St. Louis)


Atlanta

As a Falcons fan, this game scares the living daylights out of me. Vick's worst struggles have come against this team. Plus, the veteran squad appears to be finding its way after some early season failures. Is this the same situation Atlanta had in reverse against the Panthers? Did the bye give the team more time to fixate on how much they struggle against the Bucs as Carolina did with Vick? God, I hope not. TB's next two games should be cake, so I am not taking this team for granted. I do not want my team to be the 2004 answer to the Minnesota Vikings. I feel the Falcons are better, but this is one nervous fanboy.

(Kim's pick: Atlanta)


Washington

Everyone knows what the Redskins will try to do here. They are a middling running offense that wants to be a great one. They are matched up against a team that is statistically the worst rushing defense in football. The problem is that Cincy's weakness is at stopping the up-the-middle runs such as wham plays. Clinton Portis is a speed back who gets mauled in traffic. His style of running is not the type which plays well against the weakness of the Bengals. Conversely, the Redskins play phenomenal defense. Carson Palmer is in the middle of his first season as a starter, but he has been playing well lately. Which struggling unit overachieves? In the end, I would much rather have Portis and the Redskins D than Palmer and the Bengals D in this matchup. If I am Joe Gibbs, though, I am taking a long look at taking some deep shots in the passing game. Otherwise, the home fans might grow even more restless about their returning coaching icon's performance to date.

(Kim's pick: Cincinnati)


Carolina

This is a battle for higher placement in the NFL draft. With their top two RBs and #1 wideout gone for the year, Carolina is looking from going from #2 in the draft to the Super Bowl back to top 5 in the draft...all in the past three seasons. They have no healthy running backs and holes across the offensive line. Plus, their most reliable blocker, Brad Hoover will either be unavailable due to injury or forced to split carries at feature back. And I *still* like this team better than the 49ers in this game. Why? The 49ers secondary has been obliterated by injury, leaving Muhsin Muhammad and rising rookie Keary Colbert free to roam free in a game where the Panthers must think first. Even better, MM has had some of the best games of his career against the Niners. Chin up, fellow 49ers fans. This just means a better shot at picking first in the draft. Now all we need is another Miami win! Hey, miracles happen.

(Kim's pick: San Francisco)


Green Bay

This is a must-win game for both teams. If GB takes it, they have every confidence the Vikings will disappear from their rear view mirror. Conversely, if they fall two games back, a repeat of 2003 would be a lot to ask for. For the Vikes, visions of Nate Poole must be dancing through their heads on a nightly basis. The Vikings have restored Michael Bennett to his starting role in hopes that his fresh legs might dominate the mediocre Packers run defense. With Moss out, a running game is the key to the Vikings avoiding another Nate Poole moment later on this year.

(Kim's pick: Green Bay)


Arizona

There, I said it. The Cardinals are susceptible to the run, so this should be a matchup nightmare for them. Despite that, I expect the Cardinals to harass Kurt Warner, create turnovers and unveil the balanced passing attack they would have had all along if Anquan Boldin had been heahlthy. They would be at worst tied for first in the NFC West if he had been healthy the first seven games.

(Kim's pick: New York Giants)


New England

Every instinct tells me to pick the Bills here, but it is so hard to pick against a team that has won 95% of their games over the past 13 months.

(Kim's pick: Buffalo)


Philadelphia

Last week was a mulligan. The Eagles will go a long way in reminding people that they are way up this season. If not, MNF fans are the real winners. They get to watch another T.O./McNabb meltdown in front of 20 million viewers.

(Kim's pick: Philadelphia)

 
Last week was an abomination as I went 5-9. Sadly, it could have been worse as the afternoon started 0-7. Just pathetic.

Here are this week's power rankings:

1) Pittsburgh Steelers

One of the best storylines this season is the way that Jerome Bettis and Emmitt Smith have found some redemption. Now, they can each walk away on the highnote their Hall of Fame careers deserve.

2) New England Patriots

Their inconsistency in stopping the run makes potential playoff matchups against any number of AFC foes problematic.

3) Philadelphia Eagles

Did anybody get the number of that aging Bus that ran over them last Sunday?

4) NJ Jets

The loss of Chad Pennington could be devastating. If it's not, Bill Parcells will have a *lot* of explaining to do.

5) Atlanta Falcons

To be sure, they are not as good as their record. Having said that, the second half of the schedule is if anything softer. Vick needs to prove he can beat Tampa Bay, though. Otherwise, the NFC South is still up for grabs.

6) Denver Broncos

My biggest concern about them is that Reuben Droughns has fullback speed. The way the Falcons forced the slow man outside will be replicated for the rest of the season. Tatum Bell, where are you?

7) San Diego Chargers

Pop quiz, hotshot. If you are running the Chargers, would you rather have Brees running the team and take two first round picks in the draft? Or would you tag him, trade him and take your chances with Rivers and four of the first 50 picks?

8) Indianapolis Colts

I still think this is one of the best three teams in football, but their defense has me doubting. What's tragic here is that Peyton Manning just had one of the best eight-game stretches for a QB in league history, yet they only won five of them.

9) Baltimore Ravens

Ed Reed should be involved in MVP discussions. 60% of their wins trace directly back to him.

10) Seattle Seahawks

The first half of their season has had more ups and downs than a porno film set in an elevator.

11) NY Giants

Here is a word to the wise, Giants fans. Note how well the Panthers have done without the anchor of their defensive line.

12) Jacksonville Jaguars

I am the one guy in the world who thinks they better off with Garrard than Leftwich. A lot of NFL teams with cap room are going to pay careful attention to the next three games of this soon-to-be free agent. I expect them to love what they see.

13) Minnesota Vikings

Does nobody in the entire freaking state of Minnesota know how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver???

14) St. Louis Rams

I promise to move them up at least five spots next week if they beat the Seahawks again today.

15) Houston Texans

David Carr and Andre Johnson are watching game film of the Colts with the same look in their eye that men normally reserve for strip clubs.

16) Green Bay

They could not be catching the Vikings at a better time. They might even hear Mike Tice screaming, "Look out below!" as they enter the stadium.

17-t) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
17-t) Arizona Cardinals
17-t) Buffalo Bills
17-t) Tennessee Titans

Rather than offer up an anecdote or quote on the teams individually, I thought I would try something different here. Listed above are the five teams with losing records who have the best chance of coming out of nowhere to be sitting at 6-6 in a month with the potential to do some damage. Do I think all of them will do this? Absolutely not. In fact, no more than one team appears likely to do so based on a quick glance at their upcoming schedules. Even so, these are the teams that I feel have shown the most strength to put together a run. The 3-5 record factors in here. There is a huge mental stigma for a team to be 3-6 as opposed to 4-5. If you have six losses already, it is hard not to remember that Miami missed the playoffs last year at 10-6. Even if you run the table from here, you still might be screwed. 4-5, on the other hand, offers the incentive that one more win puts you right back at .500. 5-5 teams on two or three game winning streaks play with some confidence as well as motivation. After all, a lot of people have already written them off. Obviously, all of these teams need a W today in order to make this possible. If you are 3-6, it's unreasonable to expect a 3 game winning streak after winning 3 games all year. Sure, it happens on occasion but 4-5 is much safer ground.

In the case of Buffalo, the return of Lawyer Milloy and the ascension of Willis McGahee have put them back on the map. If they upset NE and the Jets stumble under Quicy Carter, the Bills are right back in the thick of wild card contention even if NE is out of reach in the division.

Arizona has played with tremendous heart this season and is one immature meltdown against SF away from being at .500. With their best player healthy again, Anquan Boldin will not only make key third down plays but also liberate Larry Fitzgerald from double teams and shaded coverages. I appreciate that it might sound crazy, but consider these two thoughts. 1) They have been outscored by 15 points this year. The vaunted Rams are at minus 25 despite being a game better. In short, it's not as if the Cardinals are getting waxed when they lose. 2) Their next four opponents are the Giants (sans Strahan) at home, at woeful Carolina, home against the Jets (presumably facing Carter instead of Pennington) and at struggling Detroit. That's about smooth as the sailing is going to get, and the onus of winning on the road is now off their backs. Plus, it's not like the Seahawks and Rams look to be running away from the pack. Now is the best time in three years to jump on the Cardinals bandwagon.

Tampa Bay still has two games against the Falcons, a team they have historically owned. They also still get SF, Carolina twice and New Orleans. Factoring in the resurgence of Brian Griese, a player everyone has always considered strong albeit a total headcase, they look even better. The final piece to the puzzle is the fact that we always knew that a team with this many new players would take a while to gel. They appear to be on the verge of doing so. If (and it's admittedly a big if which I hope does not come to pass) they beat Atlanta at the dome, all they need to do is not choke against Carolina and SF in order to be sitting at 6-5 when the teams meet again in Tampa.

Tennessee has been riddled with inconsistency all year. Jeff Fisher, one of the finest NFL coaches of this generation, made a mistake early on. He let Steve McNair talk himself into the lineup when he was badly hurt. This time was not like the others as the toughest man in the league could not perform at a suitable level. Worse yet, he made his injury worse. Now, the team faces the prospect of an unhealthy reigning MVP helming a young team. The good news is that their schedule feeds them the struggling Bears at the perfect moment. The bad news is that they still have to beat two of their three conference foes after that if they want to get to 6-6. It seems unlikely, but the Titans still hold some measure of awe with their AFC South counterparts. I can't rule such a run out even though I find the proposition highly dubious.

22-t) Cleveland Browns
22-t) Washington Redskins
22-t) Cincinnati Bengals
22-t) Kansas City Chiefs

These are the other four teams I considered for the list above. All of them have shown signs of strength at times in the past couple of weeks. Carson Palmer is getting the NFL figured out. The Browns are using twin running backs better than anyone else in the league right now. The Redskins are a consistent running game away from being Baltimore-eque. Kansas City has one of the best three offenses in football. Then, I looked at the next 4-6 games of all of them and decided it ain't happening. Prove me wrong, boys.

26) Dallas Cowboys

This is the season the team was supposed to have last year. They just got the dates mixed up. On the plus side, there is no better media day in sports than the one that includes angry, bitter Bill Parcells.

21) Detroit Lions

Their lack of a running game is mystifying. Of course, so is the fact that they have won four games considering their inconsistency this year. It ain't easy being Mooch right now. They could still make a playoff run in the weak NFC, but does it seem at all likely?

27-t) Chicago Bears
27-t) New Orleans Saints

These teams counterbalance each other nicely as they appear to be moving in opposite directions. The Bears have stabilized their coaching staff with the hire of a great football man in Lovie Smith. His steadying influence on a young football team is evident. Despite losing their young stud QB then seeing their second stringer fail, the team keeps fighting back. With Anthony Thomas again showing he should be a #1 back in this league, the Bears find themselves in a position where they could have two reliable QBs and RBs at the start of next season. If they can get a receiver to emerge and some help from free agency or the draft, this team will be competitive next year.

The Saints, on the other hand, are at Defcon 1. After choking in 2002 and disappointing in 2003, the team has been nothing short of disgusting in 2004. Their 3-5 record seems acceptable on the surface until we consider the teams the Saints have played. Only three of their opponents are over .500 with only one of the wins coming against a .500 team (St. Louis). They can't even beat middling teams on a soft schedule. Barring a second half recovery (next three opponents are Kansas City, Denver and Atlanta), a purging of both the coaching staff and management appears likely. There is no disputing the fact that this has been the most underachieving team in the NFL over the past 2 1/2 seasons. Change is requisite.

29) Oakland Raiders

I swear that I thought Kerry Collins was the solution.

30) San Francisco 49ers

You will notice nobody is talking about Ken Dorsey as the QB of the future any more.

31) Miami Dolphins

In hindsight, Dave Wannstedt must wish to God he had been fired after last season. Barnum and Bailey don't have to run this much of a circus.

32) Carolina Panthers

I don't know if they've got soul, but they are super bad.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

 
Okay, you see what I mean now about the site content for this week. Compiling a list and handling any numbers of updates has kept me too busy to do the football stuff again this week. I will, however, be able to get back into the swing of things for next week's games. In the interim, here are our picks for today:

Mine are:

Detroit
Miami
Philadelphia
NJ Jets
KC
Dallas
Carolina
New York Giants
New Orleans
Seattle
New England
Denver
Baltimore
Indianapolis

Kim disagrees with me on Arizona/Miami (she takes Arizona), Philadelphia/Pittsburgh (she takes Pitt), Jets/Buffalo (she never picks against the Bills), Dallas/Cincy (she takes the mighty Bengals), SD/New Orleans (she takes the Chargers), and Houston/Denver (she takes Team Andre Johnson).

Archives

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June 2004
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September 2004
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November 2004
December 2004
February 2005
March 2005
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September 2005
October 2005

     


 
 

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