A whistle-stop on the corner of Young One and Retread
Posted: Tuesday September 17, 2002 7:33 PM
Pittsburgh and St. Louis, everyone's Super Bowl teams, including my own, are 0-4. What would you think of a New England-Denver Super Bowl? "That's impossible," says Jimmy, thereby passing the test.
"Well, what would you like?" I say. "New England-New Orleans? Who is there from the NFC?"
"You know, you sound just like the e-mailers," Jimmy says, "and I sound like you, telling you not to write off the Rams and the Steelers after only two games."
By God, he's right. I've turned into the worst type of fan wacko. That's what these two goofy weeks have done to your faithful narrator. Anyway, here come the Power Rankings, with more than the usual package of copouts.
Dr. Z's Power Rankings
New England Patriots (2-0) A personnel man whom I regularly check with pointed out a very interesting phenomenon on this team. All the old warhorses, the Belichick retreads, are on one side of the ball. Defense. The offensive unit is young with a lot of high drafts, or at least genuine Patriots choices. Even the backup QBs are young. Name one old player on the offensive unit? OK, Christian Fauria, the tight end, but he shares the job with Cam Cleeland, who gets most of the work, and the rookie, Daniel Graham. This will all be developed in a future column, after I've talked with Scott Pioli, their personnel director.
Denver Broncos (2-0) Another triumph for the defense, with the most underrated and possibly the fastest set of linebackers in the business. I also liked the way they turned the running game over to their big thumper, Mike Anderson. He was kind of lost in the mix, and I've always appreciated his style of running.
Oakland Raiders (2-0) This position was a tossup between Oakland and Miami, the Raiders finally getting the nod on the humiliating experience they gave the Steelers in their own stadium. I hate to sound like Johnny One Note, but here's what I predict about the Raiders: Come Thanksgiving, they'll be sitting on 8-3 or so, and that's when they'll hit the wall. Kaboom! "Either that or they won't," says the Flaming Redhead, lifting one of my favorite phrases. That's right, Linda, either that or they won't.
Miami Dolphins (2-0) Traditionally, they always beat the Colts and lose to the Jets. Make that recent tradition. But the 0-8 slide against New York has to end sometime, doesn't it? And this looks like the perfect time.
Chicago Bears (2-0) Another toss-up spot, with New Orleans seriously challenging. Yes, the Saints' victory over the Packers was more impressive than the Bears' defeat of the Falcons, but right now I want to maintain a little perspective before I get too hysterical about New Orleans.
New Orleans Saints (2-0) Never has a team inflicted such a two-week blistering on my charts. An 11-position jump to No. 14 last week, an eight-spot leap to No. 6 this week, and at this rate, by the end of the month they'll have gone sailing right past No. 1, through the top of the chart and off into the wide blue New Jersey stratosphere. (I can just see it now ... some meteorology professor from Cal Tech will e-mail in a nasty missive pointing out, "Stratosphere isn't blue, the true color is silver with green speckles, dummy!")
Green Bay Packers (1-1) I don't know about this team. They were out-quicked on the artificial turf. Luckily, they have to play only four more games on this surface, or something similar.
Philadelphia Eagles (1-1) I'm not sure whether I agree with John Madden's assessment that Philly simply had too much speed for the Redskins on Monday night. To me it looked like the Eagles' front five exposed a very ordinary defensive line, the blockers did a good job tying up LBs Arrington and Trotter and then the DBs were left to struggle. And, of course, McNabb was at the top of his game. Defensively, we all knew that it was an overmatch ... Jim Johnson's intricate schemes against a marginal QB, Shane Matthews, even backed up by the Steve Spurrier wizardry. It was interesting that Spurrier chose to go with a very conservative, buttoned-up offense, and then when he had to open things up, we saw why.
San Francisco 49ers (1-1) Two of their biggest stars, Garrison Hearst and Terrell Owens, are showing signs of slowing down. At least that's the way it looks to me. I'll probably get some serious arguments from everyone within the Niners organization, but what can I tell you? I'm only a humble writer trying to scrape by any way I can.
New York Giants (1-1) Here's why they're up in the top 10: They went into St. Louis with their best runner, Tiki Barber, less than 100 percent, forcing them to assign some of the load to Ron Dayne, whom I would not list among the NFL's top 100 ball carriers. Their offensive line was unsettled. The Rams opened with six wideouts, forcing the Giants to reach down for their fifth and sixth DBs, namely Jason Sehorn, who's still very clever but can't run, and, and ... you name it ... DeWayne Patmon? Ralph Brown? A marginal, whomever. And they still came away with the win, mostly on courage.
St. Louis Rams (0-2) OK, Jimmy, I won't give up on them, but as I wrote in the magazine this week, there's something functionally wrong with Kurt Warner's throwing -- the thumb, or possibly something worse -- and until that's cleared up, the whole equation will be out of whack.
Tennessee Titans (1-1) Man, tell me this isn't a wacky year. The defense switches from zone to man coverage in the second half against Philly and gets the win. Then the secondary gets exposed by Quincy Carter, who had been, a week earlier, exposed by the Texans' defense. I'll put the Titans on hold for now. I thought they'd solved all their pass-defense problems. Obviously -- all together now -- I was wrong.
Buffalo Bills (1-1) Here's the inside word on Mike Hollis' 54-yard field goal that doinked over the crossbar to send the Vikings game into OT. NFL Films told him they'd pay him big bucks if he could get the ball to do that for one of their highlight shows. He practiced all off-season, until he got it down. He's also working on kicks that will scrape either upright and drop in, but that's for later in the year.
Pittsburgh Steelers (0-2) You get your passes launched before the rushers can reach you, you beat the Steelers, over and out. One theory I've heard is that you want to pass on the 3-4 defense while its in its base alignment, since it's primarily a run-stopping setup. Fine, except that Houston seems to do OK on all downs. Confusing, huh? No one's writing the Steelers off just yet, not while Cincinnati and Baltimore are in the division.
Indianapolis Colts (1-1) The Dolphins jinx. The picks come in odd ways. The breaks fall in one direction. Is the defense really fixed? Last year after two games (2-0) it had given up 50 points and 701 yards to the Jets and Buffalo. This year the numbers read 46 points and 685 yards. Seems like a work in slow progress.
Atlanta Falcons (0-2) The scramble is on to be the last team in the top half of the rankings, and the winner is ... the winner is ... 0-2 Atlanta, which has battled two Big Ten, make that NFC North, opponents to a standstill.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1) The division looked like a steal, and the Bucs had their advance purchase ticket to the playoffs. But guess what? New Orleans looks terrific, Atlanta plays everybody tough and even the lowly Panthers are 2-0. I'm waiting to see what Tampa Bay does against the Rams before I form any serious opinion, which, of course, changes from week to week.
New York Jets (1-1) I didn't think it would happen so soon. They're already talking about changing their offensive philosophy, assuming they have one. Last year it was Curtis Martin and short, controlled passing. Then it was decreed that they had to open things up. This year everyone said it would be more wide open, and now they're saying they're going back to a ground game and red meat and potato soup and the things that made America great. See what happens when you lose, 44-7?
Washington Redskins (1-1) Their secret weapon Monday night was pepper spray that cleared the Philly bench. But why'd they have to wait so long to use it? The game was over by then. I can't wait to see what they'll come up with in their next home contest. I'm guessing that they'll turn loose the big police dogs, or maybe Dobermans.
Dallas Cowboys (1-1) That's right, they're rated higher than the Texans, which will get the e-mailers fired up. Sooner or later it has to happen on my chart, a team that lost to another team gets rated higher. The bad thing here, though, is that Dallas is rated a lot higher than Houston, like eight places. It's unfair, I know, but at least in my mind it speaks of the quality of the two teams. Bouncing back from the opener and beating the Titans the way they did was a notable achievement and must be rewarded.
San Diego Chargers (2-0) Gently, gently, let's keep it in perspective. They haven't beaten a good team yet. They face the desert heat in Arizona this weekend. Then they play the Patriots. A split here will certainly create the impression that they're for real, and will get them the kind of ranking they can live with.
Cleveland Browns (1-1) The statistics box shows some oddities. They could gain only 265 yards against a Cincinnati team that had allowed San Diego over 400. The Bengals ran off 83 plays on them, but the Cincy screwups did them in. So I kept Cleveland at No. 22. I'm willing to entertain arguments.
Minnesota Vikings (0-2) Here's a team I know should be higher, but it's not going to get there until it starts playing defense for four quarters. Plus overtime.
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) Preseason, when I threw all the elements into the equation, I forgot about Fred Taylor. If he's really back, if he can actually stay healthy for 16 games, then the Jags could challenge the over/under number Vegas gave them for victories, which was seven.
Kansas City Chiefs (1-1) They've allowed an average of 36 points and 431 yards per game to a pair of ordinary offensive teams. But who knows? In this new, one-year era of offensive fireworks, almost everyone might end up with numbers like that.
Carolina Panthers (2-0) John Fox is doing a great job coaching. The last time Rodney Peete gained over 300 yards was in a cavalry charge in the Crimean War. They beat our two lowest ranked teams on the board, but who cares? They're winning, folks, they're winning.
Arizona Cardinals (1-1) Did you ever think they'd win a game when Jake Plummer was 10-for-22 for 107 yards? Sure, all you've got to do is set the high mark for single-game yardage for the season (249), and make sure that the often-castigated Thomas Jones runs for a career high of 173. Career high? It's almost a single-season high for him. Career high. Season high. Desert high. Mile high. I'm high. Hi there. Anything goes at this level of the rankings.
Houston Texans (1-1) This is unfair. I'm ashamed. I just don't think they'd beat any of the teams higher than them. On a neutral field, that is, like Mountain Lakes, N.J.
Cincinnati Bengals (0-2) Some feeble signs of life. The statistics were decent in their last game. "I can prove anything by statistics except the truth." Who said that? George Canning. Who he? Played middle linebacker for Cromwell against The Crown.
Seattle Seahawks (0-2) Neither front line is what you'd call regimental. Shaun Alexander, a budding superstar, is bud light. This week they face the Giants in what could be a monumental letdown for New York. Better seize the day, Hawks, because it never gets easier.
Baltimore Ravens (0-2) Chris Redman wore black shoes Sunday in honor of Johnny U. He didn't call the league first. He just did it. I will not say anything negative about either young Mr. Redman nor his team, but I'll have more to say about this whole shoe thing in Wednesday's column. Stay tuned. Hit your Z-button on the computer. Stop snoring.
Detroit Lions (0-2) Can I get away with just leaving a space blank after a team? What's that, Jimmy? Better not try it. OK, listen up, here's what's wrong with the Lions. Everything.
To send a question or comment to Dr. Z, click here.