The league went into the season hoping to increase offensive output with strict enforcement of the rule against contact on receivers more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. What's the verdict so far? "Offense is up," NFL director of officiating Mike Pereira said on Monday, "but the increase hasn't reached epidemic proportions." In fact, only one more point per game is being scored in the NFL each week compared with all of last season; total yardage is up 7.9 yards per game. The most notable jump is in completion percentage, which has risen to 60.1 from 58.8. And if you think you're seeing a shower of yellow flags because of all the illegal-contact fouls being called--117 compared with 56 last year--think again: 50 fewer pass-interference penalties have been whistled in 2004.
MATCHUP OF THE WEEK
Bengals at Patriots. When Corey Dillon (left) met with the New England brass before they acquired him from Cincinnati in the off-season, the running back stressed two things: He said he wasn't the irresponsible loudmouth people in Cincy portrayed him to be, and his most productive football was yet to come. The Patriots haven't heard a peep out of Dillon all season, and the team is 11--0 when he plays. ( Dillon was out with a foot injury when the Pats suffered their only loss, at Pittsburgh on Oct. 31.) With 1,221 yards this year, Dillon, 19th on the alltime NFL rushing list (9,282), is on pace for the best season of his career.
BY THE NUMBERS
When the Browns agreed last week to pay departed coach Butch Davis (right) the remaining $12 million on his seven-year contract, here's what the bottom line read: $24 million for 24 victories in three-plus seasons. That seems to be the going rate in Cleveland. In his two seasons as Browns coach, Davis's predecessor, Chris Palmer, earned $5 million--and won five games.
1. So Ricky Williams's lawyer gets him reinstated in the NFL, only to find out his client doesn't want to play football. Well, duh. For several weeks Williams has told reporters from coast to coast that he is sick of the game. The time to ask him about a comeback is on April 2, not on Dec. 2.
2. If Vikings owner Red McCombs doesn't quit being stingy, he'll drive off valuable employees, notably coach Mike Tice (above), whose contract expires after the season.
3. I wish the NFL would do away with the conference playoff format and award wild cards to the four nondivision winners with the best records--regardless of their affiliation. Imagine, next month an AFC team with a 10--6 record could be sitting at home, while a pair of .500 NFC teams play on in the postseason. -- Peter King