Posted: Wednesday November 23, 2005 12:02PM; Updated: Wednesday November 23, 2005 12:10PM
The NFC playoff race is a grab-bag, thanks to the demise of the favorite, Philadelphia. Seattle is sitting at 8-2, and five teams are at 7-3 -- Chicago, Dallas, Carolina, Giants and Tampa Bay. Now let's match up these teams against each other, and I would assume that any one of these at home would be favored against any of the others. Right?
Wrong. All except one. The Bears would not be. OK, maybe now they would, after the way they demolished Carolina, but going into that contest, the Panthers were favored by three -- at Chicago. It's just something for you to think about while you're riding the trolley car up the hill on the way to work. And now here's the definitive word from someone who's way over the hill.
They gave up 37 points and a million yards to the Bengals. This is not the same defense I saw at the beginning of the season. They're little guys and they're wearing down. Dwight Freeney was not a factor last Sunday. Neither was their other potential Pro Bowler, Cato June. The secondary has three guys I consider weak in coverage: safeties Reggie Doss and Bob Sanders, and right corner Jason David, who regularly gets toasted these days. Their nickelback, though, No. 1 draft choice Marlin Jackson, had a terrific game again Cincy. He's the best of all of them. He should be starting and I'll bet he will, at the right corner, before you're through reading this.
From 20 interceptions, tied for most in the NFL last year, we go to three, and none in his last 219 passes. That's the down and up story of Jake the Snake. And what could have caused this miraculous turn around? "Flogging," says the Flaming Redhead, whose sense of humor is as warped as my own.
They gained 16 yards in the fourth quarter against the Niners Sunday. The same Niners drove the length of the field at the end of the contest and nearly sent it into OT. Maurice Hicks, a third-string back, gained 83 yards on 11 carries against the 'Hawks. And they almost blew a 15-point lead. OK, it was a trap game and they weren't up for it. That sentiment was expressed by loyal Seattle fans who are keeping their fingers crossed and hoping that this isn't the start of something weird.
We're at the critical stage now. Every time I read about their QB, he has three names. Struggling Tommy Maddox. Come back, Big Ben. If they blow another one, which is quite possible at Indy, with or without the big boy, they'll most likely find themselves in a trail position in the division and looking crosswise at wild card rivals Jacksonville, San Diego and yes, even the Chiefs. Scary, huh?
Their record earns them a spot in the top five. Their herky jerk, now they do it, now they don't, method of play, does not. There is not a single game left on their schedule that they couldn't lose. The NFC East is an ongoing drama that might not end till the swallows return to Cap-Pastrami.
An eight-place raise is the largest I've ever awarded after mid-season since I started doing these rankings, in the early 13th Century. It's my statement that, yes, perhaps I've been unjust in the past. OK, why shilly-shally? It's my statement that I've screwed them and I'm ready to apologize. "So apologize already!" says the Redhead. All in good time, little princess. Best front four in the league, solid everywhere else on defense. Offensive line that's pulled itself together to the extent that Kyle Orton has gone two straight games now without being sacked, first time that's happened in four years. You realize, of course, that all this cornbread and honey will go in the dumper if they foul up my pick for them to upset the Bucs Sunday.
Last week I promised a loyal emailer that I'd do right by them and give their eighth-place ranking a nudge. This is it. So who above them would you have me displace? And I did feel bad about lowering the Bengals after their Colts game.
Is there something in Steve Smith's contract that says they're not allowed to throw to any other wideout? I mean is Keary Colbert still on the team, or has he gone into the witness protection program? At one time he was a pretty good prospect, no? This is the kind of bitterness that follows not only losing a serious prediction in the magazine, but losing it without a prayer, thanks to the Bears.
I've got to have a talk with Chad Johnson on how he could manage to screw up what should have been a hilarious stunt-you know, getting down on a knee and proposing to the cheerleader after his TD. Putting a lid on it by writing on the dry erase board, "T.O., I got you, baby," (no one even knew what it meant) just took the impact out of the first trick and added nothing. Every stand-up comic knows you don't put a weak topper on your own gag.
Bill Parcells hung mouse traps in the locker, as a warning against taking Detroit lightly. I've always enjoyed this kind of symbolism. I remember one year when Lou Holtz was coaching Arkansas and the Razors were winning a game that promised a trip to the Orange Bowl, and the students started throwing oranges on the field. Afterward they asked Holtz what he thought about it. "Thank God we're not going to the Gator Bowl," he said.