Work in Sports
Trust Wolf, Dungy and the AFC West
Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King will answer your questions about the NFL every other Thursday. Click here to submit a question.
Peter, my Packers are a complete mess. They're easily the worst defense in football, plus they're up against the salary cap despite very few good players. I see this as Ron Wolf's doing. I'll buy you a month of Starbucks for every win this team has past six this year.
With all due respect, I think Ron Wolf is the best man at his job in the NFL. Scouts make mistakes. Scouts are not always right. Sometimes you have to sign the John Thierrys when you don't really want to because there's no one else out there who can do the job nearly as well. Sometimes you miss on an Antuan Edwards. Sometime you hit on a Mike McKenzie, who right now is the best player on the Packers defense. The other day I was in Green Bay. I asked if the fifth-round pick Wolf gave Philly for Allen Rossum was a conditional pick. No, he told me. Why, I wondered (I thought it might be conditional on some minimum punt or kick return numbers this year). "Because that's what it cost," Wolf explained. "We need the guy right now. He's a valuable player for us right now.'' The Packers are not failing because Ron Wolf is a bad scout. They're failing because their great players got old or hurt or both.
Jerry Rice has looked like his old self in the preseason so far. Is a 1,000-yard, 10 touchdown season possible for the best wide receiver ever to play the game?
Don't get carried away on Jerry Rice. A 38-year-old receiver (which is what Rice will be on Oct. 13) coming off a 12.4-yards-per-catch season with no quarterback looking for him is not likely to be reborn.
I wanted to get your opinion on the Buffalo Bills this year. I have rarely heard them mentioned on any of the NFL shows. Everyone is picking Indianapolis in the AFC East, but it seems as if Buffalo is the one team that's got the Colts' number. They had the No. 1 defense in the league, Rob Johnson has looked impressive in the preseason, and they have a crop of great wide receivers.
Unique team. No team in the NFL has rebuilt on the run as well as the Bills. I like how they dumped their past for a promising future, because you can't be sentimental in today's football. Take this year. Marcellus Wiley and Phil Hansen will do fine rushing the passer, and in their nickel package first-rounder Erik Flowers should help a lot in getting to the quarterback. I don't think they'll miss Bruce Smith. They've got as tough a schedule as there is, though. How about opening with Tennessee, Brett Favre, the Jets at the Meadowlands and Indy ... then getting a breather in Game 5. Miami, at Miami. They finish with four of six on the road -- all against playoff-caliber teams -- Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Indy and Seattle. Whooo.
I'm am a huge Barry Sanders fan, I've been following him since his junior year at Oklahoma State. What have you heard about him returning to the NFL, what are the chances, and what will it take to get him to come back if he's not 100% set on it? It's just not the same on Sundays for me.
Stop holding out hope for Barry Sanders.
He is retired.
He will stay retired.
He will not play football again in our lifetimes.
As you are well aware, Philadelphia sports fans are dying for a winner. There seems to be some genuine hope that the Eagles could really make some noise this year. Sports Illustrated's NFL Preview issue even predicted a 9-7 record and a playoff berth. Do you really think that the Eagles can accomplish all of this with a second-year quarterback who seems to be surrounded by a second-class receiving corps?
Well, I must say I don't share Paul Zimmerman's optimism about the Eagles going 9-7. He's the one who picked the results for SI. I don't think the Eagles will be a .500 team. This is the second year on a long road toward competency for Donovan McNabb. And make no mistake about it: Defenses will load up against Duce Staley until McNabb proves he's a 60% passer with dangerous receivers. He's not, and they're not. I do, however, really like that defense. Jeremiah Trotter will be in Honolulu next winter at the Pro Bowl or my name's Jeff Lurie.
Everyone around here seems to think that the Redskins are going to get to the Super Bowl and I know that with the money Dan Snyder's shelled out that he'll be really disappointed if they don't, at least, make the playoffs. However, don't you think that too many superstars can spoil a team? Or at least cause some tension? And what do you think is Washington's biggest weakness?
Katie, I agree with the chemistry question about the Redskins. I don't know, though, if chemistry questions or unrest because of an impatient owner will be the Redskins' biggest problem. Stopping the run will. The acquisition of stars in Washington has whitewashed the biggest problem the Redskins have had under Norv Turner. In the second half of the '90s, Washington was the worst among all 31 teams at stopping the run, and last year they allowed opponents 4.5 yards per carry. You know how bad that is? Let me tell you. The two biggest competitors for NFC supremacy alongside Washington are Tampa Bay and St. Louis. Agreed? Well, last year the Redskins allowed 784 more yards on the ground than the Rams. That almost 50 a game! That's almost five first downs every Sunday! You can't win playing that way! They allowed 566 more rushing yards than the Bucs. That's 50 first downs! And that, Katie, is what the Redskins need to do better or they'll be home on Super Sunday.
On a rotating basis, the AFC and NFC divisions play every three years. Based on the overall weakness of the NFC East, do you believe that all five AFC West teams have a better chance at the wild-card berths? Last year the AFC East went 14-6 against the NFC East, and as such three teams from the AFC East made the playoffs. Do you think that the third-place team from the AFC West has a better chance then the third-place teams from the other two AFC divisions?
T.J., you are a smart man. This is one of the reasons why I think the AFC West will out-playoff the AFC East 3-1 this year (Denver, K.C. and Oakland vs. Indy).
I feel that the new Cowboys corners have failed miserably thus far (though Ryan McNeil looks like a player and Kareem Larrimore has a shot to be one in a year or two). Do you feel that Jerry Jones will panic and make some sort of move to pick up an experienced DB or does he bite the bullet with his draft picks? If he does decide to make a move, is anyone out there worth picking up?
Well, the Cowboys have made about all the moves they can make now. They've paid for a decent cover-corner -- though not very tough -- in Phillippi Sparks. And they've paid a bigger price (fourth- and seventh-round picks) for tight end O.J. Santiago, who they hope will be a good receiving combination with Jackie Harris. I like those moves. They're a better team than they were last week. I think they'll play a road wild-card game on the weekend of New Year's Eve.
In all honesty, what are the Steelers chances this year? If they can somehow produce even a minimal offense, that defense should be able to win a lot of games. How optimistic can I be?
There's not a lot to like about the Steelers right now. The division, first of all, has three teams that are clearly better -- Tennessee, Jacksonville and Baltimore. Dermontti Dawson still isn't over his torn hamstring from last year and he's the best player on the team. I don't know where the pass rush is coming from. The quarterback situation is, ahem, unsettled. I don't know what they'll get out of Jerome Bettis. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?
Hardy Nickerson is in Jacksonville and Brad Culpepper is in Chicago. How good will the Bucs defense be with replacements Jamie Duncan and Anthony McFarland? Will they stay in the top 5 or fall?
Mark my words: Duncan and McFarland for Nickerson and Culpepper will be a wash by season's end. They're good players and Tony Dungy knows what he's doing. Trust him.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King covers the NFL and appears regularly on CNN/Sports Illustrated and CNN's "NFL Preview." If you still have some questions for Peter, join him Thursday, Sept. 7, at 1:30 p.m. ET, for an NFL chat on CNNSI.com. To send a question to his NFL Mailbag click here.