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The season is finally here:
How can you not be fired up?

Posted: Thu Sept 3, 1998

Peter King's NFL Mailbag Be sure to check out Peter King's Postcards from Camp, a 14-part series of e-mails from his annual NFL tour. And submit your season-opening questions for Peter's next Mailbag, coming next week.

I've tried to figure out why I always look forward to the first weekend of the NFL season more than any other until the playoff round of eight. This year is no exception; I'll be in Baltimore for Ravens-Steelers, but I wish I could be in 3Com for Jets-Niners or Texas Stadium for Cards-Cowboys or the RCA Dome for Peyton Manning's first game.

I think the reason I'm like this—and from the fervor I sense on talk shows and in locker rooms the last few weeks, I'm not alone—is because we spend seven or eight months watching teams plan and draft and throw money around and practice and tinker ... and the bottom line, come September, is we have absolutely no idea who'll win a lot of these races. I'm clueless about the NFC East. I think I like Pittsburgh better than Jacksonville, and the Dolphins better than the Patriots and Jets, and Denver better than Kansas City, and Green better than Tampa in the battle of the Bays.

  John Avery
Miami's Avery should be one of the NFL's most exciting rookies. (V.J. Lovero)
That's just it. I think, but I don't know. Labor Day weekend for me is kind of like Christmas. I'm jacked up to find out if I'll be right about Miami running back John Avery and all-purpose Steeler Hines Ward, who I think will be the most scintillating rookies. Those are the types of things I'll be looking for opening day, and beyond.

The limb is long this time of year, but here are my playoff predictions heading into the opening weekend:

(Wait! I have to give my National League home run final totals: McGwire 66, Sosa 62, Vaughn 54.)

(Wait! I'm not done. A.L. Cy Young: 1. Pedro Martinez. You've got to give him a hair of an edge for pitching in a bandbox, but my vote switches if Clemens keeps throwing zeroes. 2. Roger Clemens. 3. David Wells. 4. David Cone.)


Wild Card: Minnesota 20, Carolina 17

Semis: Green Bay 31, Minnesota 23; Tampa Bay 22, Giants 7

Final: Green Bay 24, Tampa Bay 20


Wild Card: New England 17, Baltimore 15

Semis: Pittsburgh 23, New England 6; Denver 22, Jacksonville 20

Final: Pittsburgh 16, Denver 13

Super Bowl XXXIII

Green Bay 27, Pittsburgh 9

Now for your questions:

I am a die-hard San Diego Chargers fan. I am not expecting them to go far this year and I am just excited we finally drafted a legitimate quarterback. Who do you think is going to catch the majority of balls now that Tony Martin is in Atlanta?
—Peter Finneran, Boca Raton, Fla.

You have the correct expectation level, Peter. Look for rookie Mikhael Ricks, the second-rounder from Stephen F. Austin, to be Ryan Leaf's big receiver. Ricks is an impressive guy, a poised, 6'5" target who's been practically joined at the hip, in a playbook sense, to Leaf throughout the preseason. The Chargers have made some good moves, but I think they're still a couple of big players from contention. The thing I like is that Bobby Beathard has solidified the left side of the line with two free agents, tackle John Jackson (from the Steelers) and guard Aaron Taylor (from the Packers), so Leaf should have a fair shot as a rookie because he'll have satisfactory protection on his blind side.

With Jason Sehorn going down with his knee injury, could Donnell Woolford be a quick fix for the Giants if safeties Conrad Hamilton or Shaun Williams don't pan out in the secondary? Or is Woolford damaged goods?
—Pat Curry, Moravia, N.Y.

Good idea, but there are so many teams hungry for corners right now that you'd think they'd be lining up at Woolford's door if he had anything at all left. Here's his problem: He's lost two steps from his peak years in Chicago five or six years ago, and he's a not a diligent worker off the field. The Giants are better off going with Conrad Hamilton and, within two or three weeks, subbing Shaun Williams for him when Williams knows enough about what he's doing. Make no mistake about it, though: New York will feel the loss of Sehorn early and often this year, beginning this week when Redskins receiver Michael Westbrook makes a couple of plays on them.

So the Redskins improve defensively, and you pick them to be worse than they were last year? What gives?
—Jim Steele, Washington, D.C.

Have you watched them during the preseason? They have the worst pass rush of any NFC contender. They have a quarterback who sometimes looks like Braves reliever Mark Wohlers out there. They have a leaky offensive line. They have a brutal non-divison schedule (San Francisco, Denver and Tampa at home, Minnesota and two improved teams, Oakland and Carolina, on the road). They're a bubble playoff team, just like they were last year, even with the sharp improvement in their run defense.

Now that the Chiefs have passed on Lawrence Phillips, have we seen the last of him? Also, his mental problems are well documented, but have his physical skills diminished so much that no one will even give him a shot?
—Chris Nothrop, Omaha, Neb.

An incredible myth developed around Lawrence Phillips as he left Nebraska. It went something like this: This man has the speed and the power to be a great inside-outside runner. One problem with the myth—at Nebraska, with SUV-sized holes in the defense to run through, Phillips rarely had to burrow into a line and explode the defense. In St. Louis and Miami, Phillips had to make some holes and fight and scratch and claw. And these teams found out he couldn't do it. He's an awful runner in traffic, and defenses thought if you got a couple of hard hits on him he'd lay down. In my opinion, the guy was a mediocre NFL back the day he stepped into the league.

What do you think of Elvis Grbac's decision to leave San Francisco a year ago now, and will Jim Druckenmiller start for the 49ers in 1999 or 2000?
—Brian Lee, Quebec City

Any time you can leave a great team as a backup for the next three or four years and go to a consistent winner to be a starter, it's a no-brainer. You go. Grbac's decision was easy. Steve Young is going to play probably two more years, and so that means Grbac would have started for the Niners—maybe—in 2000. He'd be 30 then. Why wait? As far as Druckenmiller goes, he's the favorite to start in 2000 for the Niners, but he's been a disappointment so far, and I think Ty Detmer is the fallback should something happen to young in the next two years.

Are there any running backs being released or waived that could give a frustrated Chiefs fan hope ?
—Jim Burdett, Las Vegas

No. None. Coach Marty Schottenheimer told me last week he was going with Donnell Bennett and Kimble Anders, and he'd look to supplement them with a third back of some quality, but even if you think that's ex-Giant Rodney Hampton, he's nowhere near an answer to be an every-down guy.

I'm been a Rams fan since '77 and can remember vividly when sweeping the 49ers and contending for the NFC crown was as common as waking up. I'm assuming it really went bad when we didn't give Eric Dickerson his money. Why are we so perenially bad?
—James Ward, El Sobrante, Calif.

Hate to be so basic, but it's the draft. Let's go backwards and look at who they've picked high. Right end Grant Wistrom (19tk, tkth round) has had a poor camp and probably was a reach at six this year. Left tackle Orlando Pace (19tk, tkth round) will be a stud. Good pick there. Running back Lawrence Phillips and WR Eddie Kennison? Awful return for two first-rounders in 1996, and I believe Tony Banks, drafted in the second round, is not their long-term answer at QB; he's just not accurate enough on deep balls. Kevin Carter, the first-rounder in '95, is an average NFL left defensive end. Right tackle Wayne Gandy ('94) is a backup-quality guy. Running back Jerome Bettis and tight end Troy Drayton were the first two picks in 1993, and both got run off. I still can't believe then-coach Rich Brooks couldn't get along with Bettis. I mean, I speak for all writers in the NFL, I think, when I say that Bettis is one of the best guys in the league, on and off the field. That enough evidence for you?

The Ravens have a good, young defense built around their talented linebackers, an exciting pair of wide receivers in Jermaine Lewis and Pat Johnson to complement Michael Jackson, and a proven winner in quarterback Jim Harbaugh. Why is everybody picking them to finish so poorly this year?
—George Bowser, Baltimore

George, you ask a very good question. Here's a real-world answer for you: Most predictions are made by writers in June or July, before these teams have developed. Ask most of the experts what they think now and they'd tell you the Ravens, along with the Vikings, could be the surprise teams of the league.

Who do you think has been the bigger bust in the NFL, Heath Shuler or Rick Mirer?
—Eric Isaac, Washington, D.C.

At least Mirer did it for a year, and at least he'll have a whisper of a chance to revive his career now that he's with a great quarterback coaching system in Green Bay (Mike Holmgren-Andy Reid-Brett Favre). Shuler never did it once, and now he might never play again because of his severe foot damage.

Click here to submit a question to Peter King.

Related information
Previous Mailbags
August 20: Before you holler, here are my predictions
August 4: In August, Optimism Rules
July 15: Are you ready to go camping?
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