Mediocrity abounds, but Broncos stay ahead of the Pack
Posted: Tuesday November 05, 2002 6:07 PM
Here's a thought. "Beginner's luck," says the Flaming Redhead, who has adopted a more sarcastic tone since returning from abroad. The thought is that all you have to do to make the playoffs, if they were to take place in November, is have a winning record. Twelve teams would qualify. Only 11 have a winning mark at this point. So the best .500 team also gets a spot, which at this point means Tennessee, the mighty titan of the AFC ... what was the name of that division again? South, that's it. AFC South. Mediocrity abounds. Which is meant to shortstop nasty e-mails that will begin: "How can you have a crummy team like (pick one) at ...?" name a spot. The gray area arrives higher up every week.
Dr. Z's Power Rankings
Denver Broncos (6-2) The way they handled themselves during their bye week convinces me that they still belong here. No wife beatings, date rapes, DUIs, drug busts.
Green Bay Packers (7-1) They had to protect a hobbling Brett Favre, so they stepped up the intensity of their defensive effort and gave him favorable field position. Of course, having all those hurt guys come back ... Holiday, Sharper, McKenzie, Edwards ... might have had something to do with it. KGB is staking a claim as the best pass rusher in the league this year. Then again, not everyone gets the luxury of a full evening -- well, most of an evening -- against Marcus Spriggs.
Philadelphia Eagles (6-2) Seems like I say this almost every week. Pulling out a victory on a day when things just aren't going right is more meaningful to me than beating up on some hopeless outfit.
San Francisco 49ers (6-2) They came into the Raiders game as a pretty team with a suspect defense. But then they showed a real grain of toughness in all the right phases -- O-line, plus defensive intensity. One thing interested me. They switched their strongside LB, Julian Peterson, from edge rusher in the nickel, to underneath coverage guy, which meant he was responsible for many of those shallow crosses by the Oakland wideouts. This was a strategy Bill Parcells used in the Giants-Bills Super Bowl, when he left his LBs in to inflict underneath punishment on the Buffalo K-Gun, in other words, big guys muscling little guys. I wonder if other teams will start defensing the Raiders this way.
New Orleans Saints (6-2) Sorry, New Orleans. During your bye week, San Francisco, a team you had beaten, jumped in front of you. But you retained your spot because of what happened to the Chargers. You lose one, you win one. That's baseball.
San Diego Chargers (6-2) How seriously do we take the Jets debacle? If you're gonna come up flat and get blown out, much better to have it happen in a game you were looking past than in a division crucial. If a similar situation occurs against St. Louis this weekend, then I'll be doing a deep analysis on the structural flaws of this Chargers team. Not yet, though.
Kansas City Chiefs (4-4) Bye week. Position retained. No further information available at this time.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-2) Even when the offense is positively struggling, the Bucs seem to score heavily at home against the Vikings. Don't exactly know why. It just happens, or at least it has for five straight years now, counting last Sunday's game. So let's take a look at what happens in the week after the Minnesota contest. A 2-2 mark. Average points scored, post-Vikings, 23, and very consistent, too, with a range of 20 to 27. Unfortunately I've done a lot of chart work for nothing, because this week the opponent is that traditional softie, BUY, make that BYE.
Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3) With their two thumping runners, Jerome Bettis and Big Fu, both out, the question last Sunday was: Could the Steelers maintain the runs-outnumbering-passes ratio that had given them three straight wins? Well, they didn't. They called 46 pass plays against the Browns. But backed that up with 39 runs, one or two of which might have been Maddox scrambles, to produce 85 scrimmage plays against poor Cleveland, which could only manage 42. I remember Pittsburgh piling up an overload like this against the Browns in the first year of Cleveland's existence as an expansion baby, but I haven't seen anything like it since. Yet they still had to come back from a 14-3 deficit. Now the Steelers face Atlanta at home, which is significant because it'll be the last time they'll meet a team with a winning record until Dec. 23 at Tampa Bay. Very nice prospects ahead for the men of Steel, unless, somehow, they're looking past the Falcons, as people like me are inclined to do, a very dangerous habit indeed.
Atlanta Falcons (5-3) You know the thing that impressed me most about their victory over Baltimore? They held the ball for the last 4:53 of the game to preserve the three-point margin. And Dan Reeves called a pass on fourth-and-four and got the first down. I love this kind of approach. Have faith in your guys. Don't give the other team a shot. Turn out the lights. Few other coaches go this route.
New England Patriots (4-4) Yes, they rise an incredible 11 spots and vault ahead of Buffalo, which they humiliated. Don't complain. The Bills are 5-4, and last Sunday clearly were not as good a team as New England was. I have this game on the tape, but haven't looked at it yet, and what fascinates me is that my scouts inform me that Belichick set all kinds of records for weirdness with his milling, ever-shifting defensive sets that screwed up the Buffalo blocking angles. And this comes just when all the experts, including your faithful narrator, were yelling that the Patriots had to get back to basics and stop messing around with the cerebral stuff. Yes, I'm very much looking forward to seeing exactly what kind of magic they came up with.
Oakland Raiders (4-4) Charles Woodson was destroyed by Terrell Owens. The easy call is that it was Woodson's first game back and he's not in shape yet. But what if he is? What if that's the best we can hope for from him this year? Then you're looking at a very sub-par secondary. Phillip Buchanon will be out for a while. Tory James, the right corner, is OK but nothing special. Rod Woodson is pretty close to the end of the line. Strong safety Derrick Gibson, last year's No. 1 draft, is pretty much invisible, unless he's stepping into the box to help stop the running. Does this mean that Oakland's future looks like a succession of shootouts, which puts a lot of pressure on an attack with only one downfield threat -- Jerry Porter? Monday night's Denver game will be an affair marked by vicious hitting, but I feel that Oakland will lose via the deep strike.
Buffalo Bills (5-4) What happened to their defense Sunday? Why did Tom Brady complete his first 10 passes? Don't bother to e-mail in your answers, because by the time they arrive I'll have seen all this for myself.
Miami Dolphins (5-3) I would have dropped them even lower if I could find someone beneath them who was worthy. I'll tell you what has me so upset about this team. It wasn't their offense, and poor, struggling Ray Lucas, who did the best he could. After the Packers determined that Cris Carter was not a factor, they proceeded to take away everything Lucas tried, even the checkdowns to Rob Konrad, which they were swarming. What really bothered me was Miami's failure to go after Brett Favre. It was the Dolphins' only chance to win, and they gave it a pass and played not to get beaten too badly. I don't care what John Madden said; the guy was obviously hobbled from the go, but Miami let him stay comfortable. Then for one series they sent in the blitzers, and he burned them with a screen pass, so they called off the rush and just wanted the game to end. Uh uh. Picture the way Philly's Jim Johnson would have gone after a quarterback so obviously disabled. Favre would have ended the game either on the bench or in intensive care. I can't go on with this. I mean the thing was just so obvious.
St. Louis Rams (3-5) They're responding to Marc Bulger in a way they never did for Kurt Warner early this season. There's life here. How far this will take them, and whether or not Bulger will come down to earth and show his mortality, is the big question. Right now I think they can give anyone a game.
Washington Redskins (4-4) Is Marv Lewis' defense finally kicking in, or was it simply an overmatch against the Matt Hasselbeck Seahawks? This one I've got to repeat, one of those heart-warming stories that reminds me of my childhood. Steve Spurrier was in a shopping mall or someplace and a lady came up to him and said, "Why not start Darnerien McCants?" He's the wideout who came from nowhere ... well, actually a year on the inactive roster and Delaware State before that ... to become a factor this season. The most interesting thing in his bio in the press book reads, "helped teammate Eddie Mason assemble Thanksgiving baskets for the annual holiday program founded by Mason's foundation." And Spurrier scratched his head and said, "By golly, she's right," and McCants started and caught a touchdown pass in the first quarter. I'm gonna save this one and use it on my granddaughter at bedtime. It's just such a sweet tale that I don't know what to say. Do you believe it? Let me tell you the one about the gingerbread house and the two little children called Hansel and ... what was the other one?
Arizona Cardinals (4-4) Yep, they did it again. They made a late run at the Rams. You know something? I'm getting tired of this scenario, so off we go to the big city drama surrounding the ...
New York Giants (4-4) Well, Jim Fassel sure got their attention when he announced that he was handling the play-calling. They marched up and down against the Jaguars as if there were a band in the background playing Semper Fideles, or at least they did for the first half, which was enough. And what were those super duper plays that got them into the end zone three times? Oh, I didn't see anything that popped my eyes open, just a sense of urgency, a smartness of demeanor, a one-two quickstep getting in and out of the huddle that had been sadly lacking. Sometimes that's all it takes. I don't really believe this, I just want to make all those New York fans happy for a week.
Tennessee Titans (4-4) Steve McNair's stats were the kind of passing numbers usually associated with high school football, where the quarters are only 12 minutes long ... 14 for 19 for 82 yards. But Eddie George's 95 yards were serious enough to make you take notice. Of course all this was against the Colts, who have become the No. 1 head scratchers in the NFL, so let's put the Tennessee thing in perspective, OK?
Cleveland Browns (4-5) There, I've done it. First time this year. Traditional copout involving middle-of-the-road teams, neither of which deserves to be better than the other one. I'm running long already, so let's just move along without belaboring this one.
Indianapolis Colts (4-4) Their winning record has become a dim memory. But they're still almost tied for the division lead (Tennessee's victory over them gives the Titans the edge). I don't like Peyton and the boys in Philly Sunday, but you never know with the Eagles. They have a habit of taking the day off against AFC teams. Then all we'll be reading is how the Colts are on the way back, and similar nonsense.
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-5) This is a team that doesn't quit. I like the way Tom Coughlin handles himself on the sidelines, and how Mark Brunell keeps fighting in hopeless situations. They'll beat outfits that come in thinking they're in for an easy afternoon. They'll lose to teams that have them overmatched in personnel. A productive offseason will have them back in the hunt.
Carolina Panthers (3-5) Glad they didn't pick up Jeff George during their bye week. Oops, Seattle beat them to him. Well, Vince Evans says he's ready. And Joe Theismann might be willing to step out of the booth if the money's right. Despite all this repartee, enemy QBs don't look forward to facing their defense.
Detroit Lions (3-5) The good news is that despite Joey Harringon's miserable afternoon, they still squeaked out a win. The bad news is that, well, Joey was terrible -- except on the last drive. And the news from rugged New Jersey is that the kid who stole all my Halloween candy is willing to make a deal.
Seattle Seahawks (2-6) The fans were hollering "George! George! George!" last Sunday. They've never hollered, "Hasselbeck, Hasselbeck," because there are too many syllables. And "Matt! Matt!" just doesn't have much of a ring to it. It's an ongoing problem for the Seattle fans, but I'm sure they'll work something out.
New York Jets (3-5) When you're in the New York area you're treated to a weekly run of heavy emotion. This time it's a fiery Saturday night address by defensive coach Ted Cottrell followed by a players meeting in which many fists were raised. Next day they laid one on the Chargers. I remember discussing this phenomenon once with Steve Young. "I heard that Ronnie Lott called a players-only meeting," I said to him. "You mean this week?" he asked. I've often wondered about these things. I remember my own playing days, when angry silence was a real sign of intensity to come. But, of course, those were the days of Fox Movietone News and the Legend of George Gipp.
Dallas Cowboys (3-6) I've written about Chad Hutchinson and the QB situation. I've written about Dave Campo and Jerry Jones. And Sheriff Pat Garrett and the stallions on the south 40. Let's face it: Cowboywise, I'm written out.
Chicago Bears (2-6) Sinking fast, and please, no more about Ted Washington being out. People get hurt. They still have their QB, and how about Marty Booker dropping that long one Sunday? Where's he been, by the way? He was supposed to be Pro Bowl-level this year, was he not?
Minnesota Vikings (2-6) I am looking at the rest of their schedule. Only one game involves a team with a losing record, Detroit on Dec. 29. By that time the bags will be packed and the families of players from warm weather venues will have their cars idling during the fourth quarter, ready to make a quick getaway. And I wonder how many will be back.
Cincinnati Bengals (1-7) Did I call it last week, or didn't I? I mean, the coach guaranteed the win. And then I read that wideout Chad Johnson did likewise. Did anyone on the Texans guarantee victory? They, he -- find a pronoun -- did not. I think Cincy's hit on something, folks. OK, step right up, who's guaranteeing a win in Baltimore? Better yet, who's taking the points? Not anyone from my old neighborhood, you can believe.
Houston Texans (2-6) Well, I've tried. I've kept you out of the cellar for eight straight weeks, but there's a limit to what I can do. I didn't want you to end up here, honest. But now you've done it, 38-3 against Cincinnati. You're on your own. Pick up an apple and a road map at the front desk.
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