The logic behind my first power rankings of the season
Posted: Thursday September 2, 2004 1:07PM; Updated: Thursday September 2, 2004 6:52PM
Donovan McNabb hopes the addition of Terrell Owens will help the Eagles overcome three straight losses in the NFC Championship Game.
I tried to handicap every team's won-lost, in the special Sports Illustrated football preview edition, as I do every year, but to elaborate on the numbers, I felt it my duty to provide a brief (or at this stage I'm hoping they're brief) capsule on each of those clubs. These are far from the whole story, of course, just some top of the head musings. By division, with the teams I think will be better listed first.
I'm not as high on them as other people are, but they'll walk into the playoffs because the division's a steal. I've already predicted that Terrell Owens will cause big problems, not the first time he short-arms the ball but maybe the third or fourth, when people realize that it's a recurrent pattern. They broke the bank for Jevon Kearse but he's a gamble. Hasn't been a real pass-rush force in three years. Add to that new corners and a running game that's in the hands of a shrimp, Brian Westbrook, who ended the 2003 season on injured reserve. Sounds pessimistic, but they'll win their usual 11-12 games, which will get them into the postseason.
I was intrigued by the way Joe Gibbs has collected big, burly, boisterous, blockers (any more B's out there?) to man his tight end spots. That tells me he's laying in supplies for the Winter Offensive. My man T.J., the coach and our West Coast spotter, reports that Gibbs himself played tight end at Cerritos JC. You say what? That this means absolutely nothing? Sorry, but please remember that the unsung hero of his old Redskin teams was Donny Warren, a magnificent blocking TE. A run-run-run offense featuring Clinton Portis would be something I'd really love to see because 1) it's easier on my charts, and 2) it makes for shorter games.
Can't get past the Vinny Testaverde thing. My theory? Well, once upon a time Jerry Jones hired Barry Switzer to show Jimmy Johnson that he could win with anybody, with a coach off the street. He did. Then the house of cards collapsed. It's only my opinion but I think Bill Parcells is trying to show Quincy Carter, whom he feels double-crossed him, and the rest of the world at large, that he can win with a loyal soldier, even though he happens to be 40 years old and very risky in the face of a concerted rush. I don't think it'll work. I think we'll see a lot of Drew Henson in November and December.
It's been a Johnny one-note camp. The big quarterback showdown. In my wisdom, I told my friends that it already had been decided, that Eli Manning was the chosen QB and they were just going through the motions of competition so that Kurt Warner wouldn't go in the tank on them. Well, the doc blew another one, but honestly, I didn't see how they could start Warner behind a shaky O-line. On TV Joe Theismann labeled it the worst in the NFL. Then those linemen got after him and he went into his backstroke and said, "I meant the worst last year," a clever change of tenses that fooled no one. The thing is, he wasn't so far off. When he's throwing soft, Warner is accurate. When he tries some velocity, it's a scatter-shot. Uh uh, this ain't gonna work.
I picked them to go through one round in the playoffs. They could go further. Loved them signing Antoine Winfield in free agency. Is Mike Tice the coach who could lead them to the promised land? Not sure, but gosh, I had to get at least one new face into the NFC post-season picture. A lot of hand-wringing about their running game. Michael Bennett has a bad wheel. OnterrioSmith, who was a serious character risk coming out of college, gave them one good-boy year and now he faces a four-game abuse (not marital, not self, so it must be substance) suspension. But fear not, Vikefans. Moe Williams is one of the most durable and underrated backs in the NFL. He'll carry things along just fine until the fancy people come back.
When Brett Favre crashes some day, due to being born too long ago (Oct. 10, 1969), the Pack will come down, kaboom! I don't know how far away we are from that moment, but there were things that made me uneasy last year, such as the fact that they had trouble mounting their patented fourth-quarter comebacks, and two games were flat out blown because the QB put the ball up for grabs. They'll be in the playoffs, though, because they have a fine running game with lots of backs to alternate and possibly the best (along with KC's) offensive line in the league. If I were the Giants I'd give the Packers whatever they wanted (well, almost whatever) for that monster who comes in on short-yardage downs and can bring down a whole side of the line, No. 71, Kevin Barry. No, Liam, it's not the rebel lad who wouldn't turn informer and betray his brave companions:
In Mountjoy Jail, one Monday morning, High upon the gallows tree, Kevin Barry gave his young life, For the cause of liberty ...
Things go OK in the offseason, then someone gets hurt, then someone else and pretty soon they've got the shorts at a position or two and they're struggling. The offseason has brought them untold riches and now people are hopeful. I wanna see first. I wanna see if a team that has lost 24 straight on the road can be taken seriously. Incidentally, a young Maine resident named Michael Simon, who keeps very close tabs on both the Lions and Vikings, for many years has been calling to my attention the fact that the Lions always seem to have an inordinate number of injuries while the Vikes suffer very few. He wants me to find out why. The turf? The conditioning? The water? What? Beats me, but there's got to be an answer somewhere.
The offense? Eh? The defense? Two young superstars in the bud, Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs. I like the new coach, Lovie Smith. In our only conversation I asked him, in my usual blunt, tactless fashion, when was he going to get his middle linebacker to play like a real MLB, instead of a guy who gets taken for a ride every time they're in goal-line defense. Surprise. He didn't tell me to take a hike. He just smiled and said, "We're working on it."
The thing that makes me nervous about the Cats is that Vegas has given them 8 1/2 as their over-under number for regular-season wins. Shocking way to treat a returning Super Bowler, you say. Well, I was even more shocked two years ago when the same number was assigned to the defending Supe champ New England, and damned if the Patriots didn't crash and finish at 9-7 (just barely over the Vegas line) and out of the playoffs. Well, we know that those boys out there don't like to donate funds, so what is there about Carolina that they don't like? O-line? Yeah, I guess. Missing a tackle big time. Defense lost RCB Bobby Howard. Jake Delhomme can only get better, right? Ah, the hell with it and Vegas, too. I've got the Panthers facing Seattle in the NFC championship. Whoops, I just gave it away.
I'm mad at them because they fired a friend of mine and one of the really good PR men in the league, Aaron Salkin. They said he had gotten too close to writers. Jim Mora Jr. seems like an energetic young coach, and we'll see how much one high profile CB, DeAngelo Hall, can do for a secondary that was one of the league's worst last year, working behind a 3-4 line that had the wrong personnel for it. But we'll have to wait until November for all that, because the news this week is that Hall has a fractured hip and will miss six to 10 weeks. What's all this got to do with the PR man you ask. I want to know who asked that question. He just doesn't understand things.
I've heard people call them a Super Bowl dark horse this year. Why? What's really changed? Of course when I heard the people call them that, I could hear juke box music in the background.
My instincts tell me a crash is coming. All that frantic thrashing about in the free-agent jungles, and now they've got what? A team without a keynote runner, receiver or QB. You say you like Charlie Garner? Me, too, but he's 32 and seems to be on the wane. Carried the ball only 35 times in the last eight games of 2003. Joey Galloway? Sure, a long-ball threat, but he'll be 33 in November and he's coming off a year in which he caught 17 passes, with one TD, during the last 10 games of the regular season. And so forth.
Well, I'm sending it all in on a team that seems to have everything in place -- good offensive line, good receivers and featured runner, QB MattHasselbeck, who's coming off a richly deserved Pro Bowl year. You want to know about their defense? Now why'd you have to go and ruin it all? OK, I think CB Bobby Taylor, from the Eagles, has one more big-league season in him, maybe two, but this is the year that Mike Holmgren makes his big Super Bowl push, so that's OK. They've got a good guy on the other side, Marcus Trufant, and how many teams these days have two corners who can play consistent man-coverage? Ex-Ram DE Grant Wistrom was a terrific pick-up. It's not a great defense, but how many are there in the NFC?
Before Kyle Turley went down I had them at 12-4 and the Hawks at 11-5. Then Turley got hurt and I took a good look at this team, including an O-line I don't think will hold up, and I flopped 'em with Seattle. They could even wind up out of the money, despite all their offensive high flyers. But I guess I'm just locked into predicting a good record for this team, until shown otherwise. I don't like to knock assistant coaches -- poor devils -- but gosh, why is Larry Marmie their new defensive coordinator? His Cardinal defenses finished 28th, 29th and 26th over the last three years, and 30th in 2000 when he co-coordinated with Dave McGinnis.
There's an interesting debate going on as to which team will be the division doormat, Niners or Cardinals, and then, taking it a step further, could either of them actually be the worst team in football? Well, that's going to be a tougher fight, as long as San Diego remains in the NFL, but just look at what's happened to San Francisco since Eddie D. became an ex-owner. OK, you can do a lot of hand-wringing and say salary cap and all that, but the good player drain just won't stop. Since 1998, when John York took control of the club, there have been 14 different Pro Bowl players. Eleven of them are now gone.
Why did Dennis Green cut his center/guard Pete Kendall? Kendall, now a Jet, swore to me that he wasn't the guy who ratted out the coach for keeping his boys in the schoolyard too long during the offseason. A friend of Dennis' told me it was just his way of making a quick impression, of getting people's attention. Why is Emmitt Smith still the featured back? That ticket-selling gimmick has long since run its course. Well, I don't know the answers, and if I did, I wouldn't tell you. Just kidding. Of course I'd tell you. I tell you everything. Maybe the thing I'm most bitter about is that WR Anquan Boldin is down with a knee, thereby killing the bets I'd placed all up and down the Eastern Seaboard that Boldin and rookie Larry Fitzgerald were going to catch more balls than any two receivers on one team in the NFL. Remember? I hate to lose sure money. Bitter writers predict bad records.