?THE INSIDE STORY
In April 2002 HBO Sports dramatically revamped Inside the NFL, replacing the duo of Len Dawson and Nick Buoniconti with the quartet of Bob Costas, Cris Collinsworth, Cris Carter and Dan Marino. The move has given cable's longest running series (now in its 27th year) fresh legs. Last year it won a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Studio Show, and for our money it's simply the best football show on TV. Here's why: Freed from the confines of the Fox broadcasting booth, Collinsworth has become the sport's most outspoken critic, knocking Patriots coach Bill Belichick for mishandling players and Rams coach Mike Martz for mismanaging games. Costas is the most polished of studio hosts, and the conversation among the co-hosts crackles with wit and wisdom. The show's 10 p.m. Wednesday time slot means that each week it's the first national football show to analyze upcoming games. What truly sets Inside apart, though, is the customized highlight package that HBO gets exclusively from NFL Films. That slo-mo action coupled with Harry Kalas's narration is superior to standard clips, and the miked-up players provides sounds of the game other networks don't have.
?MAURICE IN THE MIDDLE
Maurice Clarett is not the LeBron James of football. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. projects the suspended Ohio State running back as a second-round pick should he be eligible for the 2004 draft. Frank Coyle, who publishes the respected Draft Insiders' Digest, sees Clarett as a late first rounder. "You're talking about a kid who played three quarters of a freshman season and will be out of football for at least a year," Kiper says. "There are an awful lot of good running backs who will have the option to turn pro. Do you take them or Clarett? I think you take them."