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NFL quick hits

It’s funny, really – since the Eagles didn’t play on Sunday, I felt like I had the day off. I’m not entirely certain why, since normally all I do on a Sunday is watch the Eagles. I guess our beloved Birds provide the same amount of stress as a difficult day at the office. (Editor’s note: Try reading this crap all day…) Anyway, it freed me up to check in on the rest of the NFL – here’s what I observed.

– Tampa Bay has a very good defense. Tampa Bay’s offense, minus Jeff Garcia and Earnest Graham, might cost them a playoff birth. The Falcons gave up three turnovers and never really got top receiver Roddy White going, and still squeaked out a win, mostly because Tampa Bay’s offense was putrid. Atlanta did get a huge game from Michael Turner, who rushed for 152 yards, and a stellar performance from John Abraham, whose three sacks brought him to a very quiet 15 1/2 for the season. Give Atlanta credit – they ran the ball well, kept the Tampa Bay’s offense out of the endzone, and pulled out an ugly win. They had the look of a playoff team, and now Eagles fans have to hope that either Minnesota beats them next week, or that disappointing San Diego can beat a suddenly struggling Tampa Bay team next week.

– The Giants are reeling. They did not look good against the Cowboys, giving up eight sacks and never really getting anything going offensively. Not having Jacobs hurt the running game to a point, but I doubt he would have been able to bash his way through the Cowboys defense. Anbody still think this team will be as productive without Plaxico? (Editor’s note: He was always a shot in the leg for their offense). Steve Smith did his job, but Terrence Newman completely shut out Domenik Hixon. The Giants are left to battle for the top seed in the NFC against Carolina next week, and it will be interesting to see how they respond.

Did the loss of this guy handcuff the Giants Super Bowl chances?

Did the loss of this guy handcuff the Giants Super Bowl chances?

– All Pittsburgh does is win. It’s ugly, sloppy, unappealing and nerve-wracking (Editor’s note: Sounds like a date with The Pundit), but they manage to squeak out W’s week in and week out. Their battle against Baltimore was a smashmouth, lunch pail grind from the get-go, and despite the low score, was entertaining throughout. The Ravens will be a very tough team to face if they make the playoffs, and I expect them to come out humming against Dallas next week. Meanwhile, the Steelers will be preparing for a huge showdown against the Titans…

– …who somehow gave up 207 receiving yards to Andre Johnson and lost to the Texans on Sunday. Should Fisher have sent out Bironas for a 51-yard attempt late in the fourth? Maybe, but if Bironas misses it, I guarantee you everyone is talking about how poor that decision was. Fact is, Kerry Collins wasn’t making his throws, and it killed him right until the end of the game. An huuuuuge game against Pittsburgh next week, with the number one seed in the AFC on the line. Oh, and where has this Texans team been all season? A better start to their season, and they’re in the playoff mix right now.

-Way to go, Tavaris Jackson. Now damnit, I want to see that type of performance in a win against Atlanta next week. (Editor’s note: Don’t think of yourself, Tavaris – think of Philadelphia).

– Hey, Buffalo Bills: what in God’s green earth were you thinking dropping back to pass? Run the ball, damnit! Your defense was playing well, and you had run the ball successfully all game long! How many ways can you find to lose football games? You make losing an art. (Editor’s note: Nobody circles the loss column like the Buffalo Bills. And that’s my rumbling, stumbling impression of an archaic routine).

Nobody knows the trouble I've seen / Nobody knows my sorrow...

Nobody knows the trouble I've seen / Nobody knows my sorrow...

– Fantasy Note: I would just like to thank the core of my successful fantasy team this season for absolutely tanking this week, which happens to be my league’s semifinal. A big, warm thank-you to Brandon Marshall, Roddy White, LaDainian Tomlinson, Clinton Portis, Chris Johnson, and Tony Gonzalez for combining to score 51.5 points this week. Now, all I need to defeat my opponent is a meager 56 points from Donovan McNabb tomorrow. That shouldn’t be too tough – all he needs to do is throw for 450 yards and five touchdowns, while running for another 50 yards and two TD’s. (Editor’s note: Eh, just another night at the office, right?)

– What we have to look forward to, after the Eagles tomorrow night: Cowboys vs. Ravens. Two defenses playing at a very high level right now, two teams with everything to play for. Falcons vs. Vikings. Atlanta is still fighting to make the playoffs, and if the Vikings win out, and the Giants lose their next two, the Vikings can actually sneak into the bye (they play each other on the last week of the season). That, and they’ve won their last four, and are red-hot right now. Giants vs. Panthers. Top seed in the NFC goes to the victor. This one should a brawl. Titans vs. Steelers. Top seed in the AFC likely goes to the victor (Titans win seals it, Steelers win puts them atop the AFC, would still have to beat the Browns in their season finale). This one should be a war. Eagles vs. Redskins. Eagles playing for their playoff lives, Redskins fighting to salvage some respect from a season teetering dangerously on the edge of disaster. Two NFC East teams that don’t like each other always makes for a good game. Patriots vs. Cardinals. The Patriots are fighting to make the playoffs, and the Cardinals are fighting for a bit of momentum heading into the playoffs. Bucs vs. Chargers. Believe or not, the Chargers can still win their division (by winning their last two, and having the Broncos lose their last two. They play the Broncos the last week of the season). Meanwhile, the Bucs will clinch a playoff spot if they win their last two games. It’s gonna be fun, baby.

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Coming down the stretch, part two: AFC predictions

By Rant (With blurbs from The Pundit)

Tennessee Titans  (11-1)

This team, like the New York Giants, isn’t flashy, yet they get the job done and are solid from top to bottom. They are a force to be reckoned with, and what’s more is that the Titans have been in this position before with head coach Jeff Fisher; they know how to win big. (Editor’s note: I’m not entirely sure when Rant means here. Last year they were a wildcard team that lost in the first round of the playoffs. The last time the Titans made a run was in 2002, when they won their division and eventually lost to the Raiders in the AFC Championship game. Not sure that many players from this team were on that one, however). Their running game is absurd, though defenses have really started to key on Chris Johnson’s speed; simultaneously, the rookie may be hitting the wall a bit in his first NFL season. He had a huge day against Detroilet, but my grandmother could run all over that defense if she had a good line to block for her. (Editor’s note: She probably has one hell of a stiff arm. Actually, I’d imagine all of her joints are pretty stiff by now).

The Titans are leading the AFC South by 3 games, ahead of the previously untouchable leaders, the Indianapolis Colts. Kerry Collins may be experiencing a career renaissance, turning 36 in December, though he’s not quite the ageless “wonder” that Kurt Warner is. Still, he has been playing well…but will it be enough for Tennessee’s offense if the run game gets completely shut down?  I’m not sure there.

Regardless, this team will continue to physically pound and out-hit their opponents.  Their defense is relentless and will help bring this team to victory in the playoffs.

Remaining Schedule:  vs. Cleveland (W); at Houston (W); vs. Pittsburgh (L); at Indianapolis (L)

I see the Titans winning games against Cleveland and Houston easily, but then dropping a loss at home to Pittsburgh because they’ve gotten complacent about their record.  Jeff Fisher will rest his starters the last game of the season in a loss at Indy because his team holds the best record in the AFC and is therefore guaranteed home field advantage in the playoffs.

Final Record:  13-3

AFC Playoff Spot:  No. 1 Seed; AFC South Division Champion

The Pundit’s Take: I agree here – they should have the top seed all wrapped up by the time the Steelers roll into town.

Pittsburgh Steelers  (9-3)

Ben Roethlisberger is playing at the top of his game right now, despite an offensive line that seems to willingly give up sacks and free quarterback hits. (Editor’s note: 33 sacks, to be precise, and the 36 overall the Steelers have allowed is 6th worst in the NFL). Last year, Roethlisberger got sacked second most in the league but still managed a 31 to 11 TD:INT ratio, an incredible stat that tells me this guy knows how to sling the football.  Though Roethlisberger isn’t performing as well this year, he is still the leader of their offense and his tough play through injury embodies what the team stands for (Editor’s note: 13 TD’s, 12 INT’s – not exactly awe-inspiring).

Tomlin seems to have opened up the passing attack to Big Ben in a Pittsburgh fashion, meaning that they’ll still pass but at heart remain a smashmouth, aggressive running team first. The running back committee, however, has been blown many an injury, namely to Willie Parker and top draft pick Rashard Mendenhall.

Pittsburgh’s D will continue to destroy players as they gain momentum heading into the playoffs.  This will be big for the Steelers, because teams will continue to come after Big Ben and it’s going to make things difficult for their offense.

Remaining Schedule:  vs. Dallas (L); at Baltimore (W); at Tennessee (W); vs. Cleveland (W)

I see the Steelers losing big against Big D this weekend.  This will serve as a wake-up call for Pittsburgh, inspiring them to win out the rest of the season.  I think they’ll stun a tough Tennessee team on the road, coming out swinging and playing the same aggressive, hard hitting football that the Titans play, and they won’t be ready for it.

Final Record:  12-4

AFC Playoff Spot:  No. 2 Seed; AFC North Division Champion

The Pundit’s Take: I think Dallas will simply outscore them, doing just enough on defense to get the win, and then comes an interesting match-up against Baltimore. Sorry, Steelers fans – Baltimore’s defense is structured to give Roethlisberger hell all game long. I see Baltimore crawling past Pitt in a knock-out, drag-down battle. I’m thinking 9-7, Baltimore. The Steelers salvage their season by beating an uninterested Titans team and Cleveland, because, well, it’s Cleveland, finishing 11-5 and winning the division. They’ll finish tied with B-More, but after a couple of tiebreakers, their 10 conference wins to the Ravens’ 9 will give them the division.

New York Jets  (8-4)

I remember hearing an analyst this July say that the New York Jets would flip their 2007 5-11 record to 11-5 this year with the arrival of Favre.  I thought that was an overestimation of the Favre-trade effectiveness.  Looks like I could be wrong. (Editor’s note: Though I hate to admit it, ditto.)  But I mean, there’s a first for everything, right?  (Editor’s note: And whatever shred of humility Rant had salvaged by admitting he was wrong just dissipated beyond recovery). Favre is playing really well, and the team has seemed to rally around him. The Jets beat a previously undefeated Titans team two weeks ago, then got humbled at home by dropping a loss to the Broncos; and Favre did not look good in that game. (Editor’s note: Neither did their 30th ranked pass-defense; would you like those 357 passing yards and 2 touchdowns gift-wrapped for the holiday season, Mr. Cutler?)

The Jets were getting really hot before last week, and I see them rediscovering their spark and blazing through teams on their way to winning the division. (Editor’s note: That’s one small step for man, and one giant step for Mangini’s job security?) New York will get by on the arm of Brett Favre and a defense that does enough to win games. (Editor’s note: They are 8th against the run). Their D-line has stepped it up, and I think that will continue.

Remaining Schedule:  at San Francisco (W); vs. Buffalo (W); at Seattle (W); vs. Miami (L)

The loss to the Broncos will fuel this team to win big the next three games. But I see Miami declaring war against New York in the season finale; Favre won’t be on his game and have a multiple pick outing, throwing the game away to the Dolphins. But it doesn’t matter because New York will lock up the division and head into the playoffs,  though I think Favre’s uncanny ability to make dumb throws will plague this team in the postseason.

Final Record:  11-5

AFC Playoff Spot:  No. 3 Seed; AFC East Division Champion

The Pundit’s Take: I disagree only slightly with Rant’s final prognosis – I see this team winning out. Having Buffalo and Miami at home will be an advantage, especially against Miami, who is 1-7 since 2000 against the Jets in New York.

Denver Broncos  (7-5)

The Broncos are led by another young quarterback lighting up the league this year, Jay Cutler (at least when he isn’t stinking it up against the likes of the lowly Raiders). He and his team of wannabes, the Denver Broncos, keep sending me mixed signals. (Editor’s note: And women continue to send him no signals whatsoever). Cutler started off the first 4 games of the year leading MVP talk with Drew Brees nipping at his heels. But he cooled off, and so did his team, which lacks a solid defensive unit.

The defensive play is unfortunate, because they have some stars in players like Champ Bailey, Elvis Dumervil (who I, by the way, always said would be great coming out of college), etc.  The Broncos, like the Seattle Seahawks of pre-2008, are basically granted a free playoff spot due to their poor division, barring a total collapse.

This team needs to learn how to shore up the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, as the run game and run defense are both lacking.  This will be a problem, because they will not be a legitimate title contender without establishing a run game. (Editor’s note: Though Peyton Hillis did just go for 129 yards with a TD against a pretty good Jets running D). But the Bronco’s will be in the playoffs anyway, and I’m glad for them.  Besides, I have a soft spot in my football-shaped heart for the Broncos.  I’d like to see them and Cutler get back to some glory days. (Editor’s note: And Jay Cutler totally has callouses on his fingers for you, Rant. No, wait – that’s the Diabetes. My fault).

Remaining Schedule:  vs. Kansas City (W); at Carolina (L); vs. Buffalo (L); at San Diego (W)

The Broncos will assert themselves against the Chiefs this weekend, but lose at Carolina and Buffalo; a reminder that this team has problems against the run.  Denver will then win at San Diego in the final game of the season in a very tight game.

Final Record:  9-7

AFC Playoff Spot:  No. 4 Seed; AFC West Division Champion

The Pundit’s Take: Agree with the record, though I think the losses come to Carolina and San Diego, not Buffalo. San Diego owes them for the blown-call game, and Denver will likely be resting their starters this week, anyhow).

Indianapolis Colts  (8-4)

This team is not looking like their best right now, a lot of it due to the lacking play of Peyton Manning. Everybody is saying Peyton is having another good year and statistically I would agree. (Editor’s note: Really, I wouldn’t even say he’s having that great of a year – 19 TD’s, but 12 picks in 12 games? Not the Peyton Manning I know and love. Last year’s 14 picks were the most he threw in six seasons!) But the fire that usually carries Peyton Manning doesn’t seem to be there this season, if you ask me.  The guy is getting older and his team is struggling around him.  No doubt the Colts have been winning the games they need to, but they’re game is not on point, and they’re not going to catch division rival Tennessee.

Marvin Harrison’s play is on the decline and it is hurting Peyton Manning’s game. (Editor’s note: Looks like the Colt .88 Special is finally unloaded). Harrison is still productive, but he is not the consistent threat Manning once relied on consistently. And the defense, though fast and led by some studs, only seemed to click like a real unit in the 2005 and 2006 seasons. They need somebody to come along and light a fire under their asses, because they’re not going to scare many teams in the playoffs with their current play.

Remaining Schedule:  vs. Cincinnati (W), vs. Detroit (W), at Jacksonville (W), vs. Tennessee (W)

The Colts will win out, but it won’t look pretty, except for a huge win against Detroit. But then again, everybody has a huge game against Detroit. Indy will win against Tennessee in their last regular season game and head into the playoffs feeling good about themselves.  But I don’t think this team has what it takes to do much, they just look stale.

Final Record:  12-4

AFC Playoff Spot:  No. 5 Seed; Wild Card Seed No. 1

The Pundit’s Take: I think they win out, and they would not be a team I would want to face. In the NFL, a win is a win, and sometimes, believing you will win is as important as talent. I mean, would you want to see an Indy team that had reeled off 9 straight wins heading into the playoffs? I sure as hell wouldn’t.

Baltimore Ravens  (8-4)

Another interesting team, the 2008 Baltimore Ravens.  Joe Flacco is proving has proven his worth thus far this year, though not at the same level as fellow rookie QB Matt Ryan. This team surprised me this year with success the same way they did last year with failure.  The fall from grace last year after a 13-3 season in 2006 was unbelievable, much as this season’s turnaround has been equally surprising.

Coming into the season, I thought second-year quarterback Troy Smith was given the green light by rookie coach John Harbaugh to lead his offense, but then Smith got pneumonia and lost 30 pounds. Flacco stepped in, and I don’t think there is any doubt that he is their franchise quarterback for the foreseeable future.

The Ravens have a trio of good runners in Willis McGahee, rookie workhorse Ray Rice, and the hard hitting Le’Ron McClain. The O-line is still pushing people around despite the loss of Jonathon Ogden to retirement this past offseason. The defense is showing signs of aging at several positions, though they are still 3rd in the NFL in points allowed and 2nd in yards allowed per game. Third year DT Haloti Ngata from Oregon is a solid anchor in the middle of their defense.

John Harbaugh is yet another rookie head coach turning his team around and making headlines. In fact, Jonathon Ogden almost held off retirement because he said that Harbaugh was that inspiring from day one in the organization.  This is a team on the rise.

Remaining Schedule:  vs. Washington (W); vs. Pittsburgh (L); at Dallas (L); vs. Jacksonville (W)

The Ravens will flatten the Redskins this weekend, then drop a loss to a better Pittsburgh team. After this, the team will go into desperation mode, but won’t be able to get it done in Big D because Flacco won’t be able to handle the pressure, being that he’s still a rookie. Baltimore will finally get it done against a struggling Jacksonville team and head into the playoffs, beating out New England and Miami for the final Wild Card spot. The Ravens hold the tie breaker over Miami with their head-to-head victory, and against New England because they have a better in conference record:  Baltimore 8 wins in conference, New England 6 wins in conference.

Final Record:  10-6

AFC Playoff Spot:  No. 6 Seed; Wild Card Seed No. 2

The Pundit’s Take: I don’t agree. I think this team beats the Steelers, hounding and pounding Big Ben all day long. That victory will prove huge for the Ravens, as their 11-5 record will get them into the playoffs, though the Steelers will still win the division. The reason I see them winning this one? Couple of reasons: they protect Flacco a bit better than the Steelers protect Big Ben, to the tune of 13 less sacks allowed this year. The Steelers are playing their running back situation by ear, while Baltimore shuffles three solid backs in and out of the game, to the tune of the NFL’s third-ranked rushing offense. Though the defenses cancel each other out, I think the Ravens offense, at this juncture of the season, is a bit more equipped to handle the Steelers D than the Steelers offense is equipped to handle B-More’s D. Should be one of the better games of this season.

New England Patriots  (7-5)

Matt Cassel is finally getting the idea that he can just chuck that ball in the general vicinity of Randy Moss and win games.  He has been playing well the past couple weeks, but like all the experts say (cough, cough…ahem), he is a product of wonderboy Josh McDaniel’s videogame-like passing attack.  Seriously, with the Pats pass-blocking O-line, all they need to do is have Wes Welker run square-ins against linebackers while Randy Moss runs go’s and post routes. Viola!  Insert Random Quarterback Here and Automatically Gain 300 Yards Passing!

This team is struggling right now though, regardless of Matt Cassel.  The Pats just resigned LB Roosevelt Colvin, a guy they cut this past offseason; to me, this is a sign of desperation from Bill Belicheck. The guy must be pulling his fucking hair out right now the way his defense is playing. The secondary is a make-shift joke, and teams will continue to exploit that weakness the rest of the season. (Editor’s note: They’re 16th against the pass – not spectacular, though I don’t know if that makes the secondary a joke).  Rookie LB Jarrod Mayo is playing well right now, and the D-line still has it, but the defense as a whole is not meshing well right now. This and a so-so run game are the Achilles heel(s) of this team.

Remaining Schedule:  at Seattle (W); at Oakland (W); vs. Arizona (W); at Buffalo (L)

New England fields a very favorable remaining schedule, but it’s that last game at Buffalo that will finally put a knife in their playoff hopes.  Division rival Buffalo will come out swinging like it’s the Super Bowl and Matt Cassel simply won’t be able to deliver in the clutch like Tom Brady.  The season is on the line, and I say the Pats fold like a lawn chair.  This will piss me off because I love watching the Patriots, but there’s always next year when Randy Moss and company greet returning MVP Brady with open arms and reassert their dominance. AMEN! (Editor’s note: YOU CALL YOURSELF AN EAGLES FAN? I CALL YOU A BANDWAGON SELL-OUT! I ONLY ALLOWED THAT UTTERLY DESPICABLE SENTENCE TO DIMINISH THIS POST SO THAT I COULD PUBLICLY CHASTISE YOU! Seriously, though – shame on you, Rant. You’re better than that).

Final Record:  10-6

AFC Playoff Spot:  OUT

The Pundit’s Take: Way to let him have it, Editor. I think the Patriots will win out, and tragically for them, still miss the playoffs at 11-5 due to Baltimore holding the tiebreaker over them. Which is a brutal way to go out. Still, 11-5 after losing the game’s best player for the season is one hell of a job by Bill Belichick, his staff, and the Patriots team.

Miami Dolphins  (7-5)

This team is turning things around with a great rookie head coach led by the ever-steady hand of Bill Parcells. Chad Pennington and a revitalized rushing attack have helped to make the Dolphins look good on offense, but they just lost leading WR Greg Camarillo to a season-ending knee injury.  The Ricky Williams / Ronnie Brown tandem has been a hit so far, and the two started the NFL wildcat fad this season.

However, the defense is not playing as well as it needs to, and this will hurt the Dolphins in the end.  Joey Porter is playing lights-out football right now, but the guy needs to shut his mouth, because his defense isn’t playing as well as he is.  Regardless, this has been a very positive rebuilding year for head coach Tony Sparano.

Remaining Schedule:  at Buffalo (W), vs. San Francisco (L), at Kansas City (W), at NY Jets (W)

Miami will play a tough game in Toronto this weekend against Buffalo and come out on top.  But the team won’t stay focused enough and will end up losing to a 49ers team for whatever reason, causing Bill Parcells to freak out and go ape-shit on the team. (Editor’s note: No, he won’t; he’s pretty removed from the day-to-day happenings of the team). After a win against the pathetic Chiefs, Chad Pennington will be out for revenge against his former team after being excommunicated when Favre arrived in New York this year. Pennington and the Dolphins will have a huge game and come just short of the last Wildcard spot after winning only one game the year before. Great turn around season for this franchise.

Final Record:  10-6

AFC Playoff Spot:  OUT

The Pundit’s Take: Disgree with the final result – I think they lose to Toronto, er, Buffalo, beat the Niners and Chiefs, then lose to the Jets, finishing 9-7. Hey, if I’m a Dolphins fan, I’m completely satisfied with their 8-game turnaround this year. Nice work, Tony Soprano. (Editor’s note: Wait, that’s not right…)

Rant’s AFC Playoff Seeds

1. Titans

2. Steelers

3. Jets

4. Broncos

5. Colts

6. Ravens

The Pundit’s AFC Playoff Seeds

1. Titans

2. Jets

3. Steelers

4. Broncos

5. Colts

6. Ravens

Rant’s AFC Playoff Predictions

Wildcard Round: Jets over Ravens, Colts over Broncos

Divisional Round: Titans over Colts, Steelers over Ravens

AFC Championship: Titans over Steelers

The Pundit’s Playoff Predictions

Wildcard Round: Steelers over Ravens (the difference between these two teams ends up being homefield adavantage and a few field goals this year), Colts over Broncos

Divisional Round: Titans over Colts, Steelers over Jets

AFC Championship: Titans over Steelers

Rant’s Super Bowl Prediction

Giants over Titans

The Pundit’s Super Bowl Prediction

Titans over Cowboys (you know damn well I could never pick them to win the thing)

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More Eagles thoughts and NFL notes

Rant Jacobs

I keep watching the Eagles this season, though I’m not sure why; all they do is anger me.  I have one word that comes to mind when I think of their season thus far: bleh. They come out dull and bland, then they show some promise.  I think I learned how to handle situations like this in Sunday school, though.

 “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I will spit thee out of my mouth.”

               – Revelation 3:15-16

(Editor’s note: I know I’m probably going to get struck by lightning for this one…but that’s what she said! Oh, snap).

Yep, since the Eagles are my excuse for not attending any church services, I figured I’d fit in some Bible time in my post to make up for it.  That quote from the Book of Revelation pretty much sums up what I feel like doing with the Eagles performance this Sunday (and their season as a whole).  Speaking of Revelation, I just had one myself:  The Eagles better wake the fuck up and smell the coffee, because the writing is on the wall and the 2008 season is sinking straight into the Schuylkill.

 It’s almost seems like they don’t want to win sometimes; like they got hired to look like they’re trying to win, but taught to lose the game.  It reminds me of the South Park episode when the kids were tired of playing baseball, so they started trying to lose the game, only the other kids were all trying to lose as well, so it became a contest to see who could lose better. I mean, isn’t that what this game seemed like? (Editor’s note: Whaddya wanna do?)

 So what needs to be fixed?  The defense played well, registering 8 sacks and allowing only 282 yards of offense against the Bengals.  McNabb has been playing well so far, but his 3 INT outing (plus a fumble) cost the Eagles the game.  His reads and decision making have been questionable, but so has the play calling and receiving corps.  The Eagles really need to be able to establish the line of scrimmage on offense, but Andy Reid is going to pass first anyway, so I say we need more passing options.

 When McNabb is on his game, he is a top NFL quarterback.  But McNabb needs his offense to be supporting him to do this, and this requires offensive chemistry.  Fortunately, McNabb has developed some chemistry with his ho-hum receiving corp.  Hell, McNabb has been working with average wideouts his entire career.  The problem is, it’s harder to run the offense with piss-poor receivers when you don’t rely on your legs like you used to.  Back in the day, teams struggled to defend the Eagles passing game because they had to waste defenders spying McNabb because of his ability to tuck the ball and run.  But after ACL surgery, at the grand age of 31 (going on 32 next Tuesday), McNabb isn’t the scrambler he once was.

 I understand that Andy Reid believes in development of his draft picks; I also understand that Reid believes in chemistry over pricey talent.  But besides Westbrook, why have the Eagles not compensated for McNabb’s transition to the pocket passer role?  It’s on the tongue of every Eagles fan:  WE NEED A PRIMETIME WIDEOUT!  In 2004, McNabb and Terrell Owens were UN-FUCKING-STOPPABLE.  You know what a great veteran receiver has done for us in the past, so why not keep it going?  That’s why The Pundit and I have started the “Help Donovan McNabb Fundraiser Drive”.  It’s an anti non-profit organization aimed at raising enough money to lure in a top tier receiver with a lucrative signing bonus. (Editor’s note: How about the “Andy Reid Brain Surgery Fundraising Drive?” Maybe then we would commit to a friggin’ rushing attack to take some of the pressure off of Mr. McNabb).

 NFL Football Notes

α: Eddie Royal has had a huge impact on Denver’s offense this year.  He should garner some consideration for offensive rookie of the year. Granted, Matt Ryan or Chris Johnson will probably win it, but Royal has played great.  He adds another weapon to Mike Shanahan’s scheme and is a great compliment to Brandon Marshall (and is a decent return man as well).  He already has 56 receptions this season.  In comparison, Brandon Stokely only has 71 receptions since starting for Denver last September.

 γ: Why are the Giants so good?   For one, they’re hungry, which is something that can’t be measured in yards or points. (Editor’s note: Only in Chunky Soup. Soon, you’ll be as sick of Chunky Soup jokes as I am of their damn commercials). They got it done last year against the Pats with one of the biggest upsets in NFL history, but they wouldn’t buy into the idea that they just got hot at the right time.  They persisted and kept playing hard.  A lot of this has to do with the team maturing, especially Eli Manning.  Eli’s play last postseason was phenomenal and has remained at a high level since. 

And as my friend The Pundit would say, the Giants bought into head coach Tom Coughlin’s system.  Quite simply, they execute the game plan as drawn up, week in and week out. It was a bit surprising to me when this team fully bought into Coughlin’s vision, as he is known to run his teams with a drill sergeant attitude. Not only does he seem to have the players’ trust, but executive backing as well, considering they have stood behind Coughlin’s decisions regarding team rule violations (see Plaxico Burress, Jeremy Shockey, etc.).

Plus, the defensive line, despite losing Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, has been superb.  Justin Tuck has been one of the best players in the NFL this season, and is a huge reason this team is 9-1. The Giants ability to get consistent pressure from their front four has allowed their offense to play loose. Essentially, the defense allows the offense to relax a bit, knowing that they will probably get bailed out if Eli starts acting 12 again and slinging INT’s all over the field.  Which he hasn’t as of yet; in fact, he’s been very, very good.

 δ: The Washington Redskins starting defense on Sunday night included 7 former SEC football players.  Wild. These SEC ball hawks really know how to fly around the football field.

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From the Nosebleeds: The Big 12 ain’t got jack on Penn State

Ryan Jacobs

I was very impressed with Penn State’s performance in Madison this past Saturday night; it was the kind of victory that is solidifying PSU as one of the best all-around teams in the country.  Daryll Clark has been the most impressive player during this team’s rise to 2008 football glory.  Against Wisconsin, Clark proved himself as a passer more than he has all season.  Quite simply, Clark is playing lights-out football.

However, Daryll Clark is being outshined by the holier-than-thou Big 12 quarterback club.  I watched the Red River Shootout and was extremely impressed with both Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford…honestly, who wouldn’t be?  Bradford has thrown for 23 TD’s already this season and McCoy has completed 79.4% of his throws.  These huge stats continue through the rest of the conference with quarterbacks like Chase Daniel, Graham Harrell, and Todd Reesing.  How did this conference give birth to so many aerial assaults?

There are many possible answers to that question, but I think maybe poor defense has something to do with it.  Don’t get me wrong – when you have a gifted offense like many Big 12 teams do, you’re going to score some points. But you would figure that inter-conference rivalries would slow high-scoring teams.  Oklahoma State did a good job of forcing turnovers on Saturday night, intercepting Chase Daniel three times, the first time he’s been picked since the season debut against Illinois (showcasing his, well, God-like abilities during that time). But Daniel still threw for 390 yards in a close game.

Oklahoma, who Kirk Herbstreit says is one of the “nastiest defenses in the country”, got gashed for 161 yards on the ground and 277 yards through the air in their close loss to Texas.  Vice versa, Sam Bradford lit up the “best defense he has seen by far this year” for 387 yards and 5 TDs (though he did throw two picks).  These teams have great playmakers, but defense does not seem to be this conference’s strength.

In fact, Kansas, ranked 27th in the nation in scoring defense, has statistically the best defense in the conference, followed next by Oklahoma at 37.  Penn State, on the other hand, is 6th in scoring defense and 8th in total offense allowed.  I realize that Penn State racked up those stats against some pretty poor offenses, but the same goes with Kansas, Oklahoma, and the majority of the other Big 12 teams, with their early season, cream-puff schedules.  The point is simple: if you’re playing poor teams and you have a good defense, you should be able to win these games without surrendering many points or yards.  These Big 12 teams obviously don’t have those kinds of defenses.

And another thing – I keep hearing that the Big 12 is the best offensive conference in DI-A.  While this appears to be valid, many supporters of this theory have (obviously) never checked out the eye-popping stats put up by players in the non-BCS, Conference USA.  Just check last year’s numbers for guys like Tulsa’s Paul Smith (QB, 5065 passing yards, 60 Total TDs) or Central Florida’s Kevin Smith (RB, 2567 rushing yards, 30 Total TDs), or Tulane’s Matt Forte (RB, 2127 rushing yards, 23 Total TDs), or Eastern Carolina’s Chris Johnson (RB, 1423 rushing yards, 23 Total TDs).  All three of those running backs are now in the NFL and are already, or will soon make a difference for their respective teams.  This is, overwhelmingly, the best offensive conference in D-IA college football and possibly the worst defensively.

I am still impressed with the big-play Big 12 offenses, but I think Penn State deserves some serious national respect. (Editor’s note: Um, gotta say, I feel as though a national ranking of three is respect).  Penn State’s offense is extremely efficient and very balanced, which in turn leads to smaller numbers for Daryll Clark.  This may lead to a conclusion that Clark isn’t good enough for consideration in the kissing-the-Big-12-quarterback’s-ass club. (Editor’s note: From what I’ve heard, people leave these club meetings with a bad taste in their mouth). On Saturday night, however, he proved to me that he has the ability to throw with the best of them.  He is smart, makes good decisions, and can make every throw across the entire field, regardless if he is standing upright or running for his life.  His ability to make plays in the passing game, especially after things have broken down, is amazing.  His comparison to Michael Robinson is unfair, because Clark is a true passer who just happens to be able to run (and with some strength).  Dare I say he reminds me of a young Donovan McNabb at Syracuse?

Clark is enjoying extreme success in a spread offense that has weapons everywhere (7th in Scoring Offense with 45.3 pts./game), and a team that really doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses (9th in Total Offense, 8th in Total Defense, excellent special teams).  Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated (probably SI’s best known college football writer) stated, quite frankly, that he hasn’t seen an offense as dynamic and dangerous as Penn State’s since that of the 2004 Utah Utes, led by coach Urban Meyer, who broke into the BCS that year with an undefeated season.  Anybody else think Urban Meyer knows how to run a really good spread?  Now what about Penn State?

Penn State’s offense is ranked statistically with the best in the nation, but I still don’t think that many analysts realize the stats they’ve compiled.  In the first quarter of this Saturday’s Red River Shootout, a stat flashed onto the screen: Oklahoma has outscored their opponents 103-3 in the first quarter this season.  Kirk Herbstreit promptly stated, “I don’t know if we’ve seen a stat like that in college football”.  Oklahoma improved upon that stat, making it 110-6 by the end of the first quarter in that game, a very impressive stat with a 104 point difference.

Now look at Penn State.  Coming into Madison, Penn State had outscored its opponents 110-20 in the second quarter, then improved that stat to 131-27 by halftime; a very impressive stat with the same 104 point difference as Oklahoma in the first quarter. So in a word, Kirk Herbstreit is wrong.  I won’t give him that much flack, as Herbstreit seems to be a Penn State supporter himself.  In the end though, he played quarterback at Ohio State, which forever leaves a part of him in the realms of douche-bagginess. (Editor’s note: Dot that eye, bitch!).

Coming into this Saturday, I thought Oklahoma had the best all around team in the country.  But after seeing them lose and seeing Penn State’s complete dominance, I think the Nittany Lions need to be considered as the nation’s most solid team from top to bottom.  I still have much respect for Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, USC, Florida and the likes (and I realize that Penn State has a ways to go), but PSU is a force to be reckoned with.

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NFL Preview Part Two: AFC South

Houston Texans

Strengths: Very solid passing attack, with Matt Schaub distributing to stud Andre Johnson and reliable options Kevin Walter, TE Owen Daniels and Andre’ Davis. At this point in there careers, is anybody going to argue that the Texans should have drafted Reggie Bush over Mario Williams and his 14 sacks last year? MLB DeMeco Ryans is the heart of the defense, and Morlon Greenwood is solid. Second year DT Amobi Okoye has a ton of potential.

Weaknesses: The running attack averaged 99.1 yards per game last year, 22nd in the NFL. The running back situation is still murky at this point, with Ahman Green and Steve Slaton the two likely to receive the most carries. The O-line was a question all of last year, and though first round pick Duane Brown has looked good so far, he’s just a youngster. Defensively, can they stop the pass? It doesn’t look like anyone on this unit will be able to generate a pass rush other than Mario Williams. That doesn’t bode well for the secondary, especially with Dunta Robinson out for at least six games. Fred Bennett and Jacques Reeves aren’t exactly striking fear into the hearts of WR’s far and wide. They haven’t exactly been stout against the run, either – they need Okoye and Travis Johnson to suck up blockers so Ryans and Greenwood can roam unblocked.

The question marks: Who will step up at RB, and can somebody please help Super Mario? The zone running scheme seems to fit Slaton’s skill set, but the question with him is the same you ask of Green: can he stay healthy? And as for that rush – they brought in Roosevelt Colvin, likely for third down situations, but he has less than impressed. (Editor’s note: Whoops, he just got cut. Uh oh). Anybody seen Luigi? (Editor’s note: Maybe they could get some mushrooms to make them bigger from Jameel Cook).

Fantasy forecast: I have Andre Johnson ranked as my 5th best receiver. Pray for health. Matt Schaub is an excellent number two, and could put up good enough numbers to be your starter by the end of the year. Keep an eye on Walter, Daniels and Davis – all were viable options at different times last season. The running backs should be selected later and scoured for on the waiver wire – somebody is going to claim starter status.

Overview: It is hard to imagine the Texans being much better the 8-8 mark they posted last year. They’ll score points, especially if they stay healthy, but the defense has a lot of question marks. If the defensive line can improve its play, establish a pass rush and keep blockers off of the LB’s, they should slow opposing offenses just enough for the Houston offense to win games. But if the D falters, they may find themselves as the 4th best team in this division again.

Indianapolis Colts

Strengths: Yeah, they’re good. On offense, they attack you with Peyton Manning, Joseph Addai, Reggie Wayne, and Dallas Clark, plus a reliable offensive line. Bob Sanders leads a unit that finished second in passing defense and third in total defense last year. All of that without having Dwight Freeney in the lineup for 7 games. If they can generate more of a pass rush this year (28 sacks last year was tied for 26th in the NFL), they’ll be even more dangerous.

Weaknesses: They weren’t stellar against the run last year (15th in yards allowed, 10 TD’s), but it certainly isn’t a glaring weakness. The health of Manning, Harrison, Sanders and Freeney is not guaranteed. The offensive line depth will be truly tested due to the departure of Jake Scott and the injury to Jeff Saturday (Editor’s note: Boy, he’s reaching).

The question marks: It’s all about staying healthy. They cannot afford injuries to Manning, Freeney or Sanders, all of whom have either recently been injured (Mr. Manning), are coming off a season in which they were injured (Mr. Freeney), or an offseason in which they had surgery (Mr. Sanders). If one of them goes down, they’re in trouble.

Fantasy forecast: I have Peyton Manning ranked as my 3rd QB, Addai as my 3rd RB, Reggie Wayne as my 4th WR, and Dallas Clark as a top 5 TE. Harrison is a mid-round pick, and Gonzalez should go late. Their D is not a bad option. Colts are always pretty safe fantasy bets.

Overview: I mean, the Colts are consistent. Peyton Manning runs the offense so efficiently, and they have such talented skill position players, its hard to imagine that they won’t be a top team again in 2008. The best way to attack them is to find creative ways to put pressure on Manning and to run the ball, chewing up clock. Or, you could just outscore them. Good luck with that. I consider them to be one of the four legitimate Superbowl contenders in the AFC.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Strengths: Their running game is top notch, and was the second best in the NFL last year. Expect Fred Taylor, Maurice Jones-Drew and the solid offense line to keep jugging. David Garrard had a break-out season last year, and if he stays healthy, should improve. He threw 18 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions last year! That’s game management, people,  and he’s an above average scrambler to boot (Editor’s note: Ugggghhhh). Their defense will miss Marcus Stroud, but new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and excellent secondary depth should go a long way to keeping their defense effective. If they can pressure the QB and accumulate turnovers, the running game can grind it out and eat clock. That is, in a nutshell (Editor’s note: Did you ever wonder what kind of nut people have in mind when they use that phrase? I’ll say pistachio, but only because they’re underrated), their recipe for success.

Weaknesses: They will miss Marcus Stroud, though its not their biggest concern. That would be the wide receivers, where they’re hoping (Editor’s note: Um, I think “praying” would be more appropriate) that additions Jerry Porter (Raiders) and Troy Williamson (Editor’s note: I believe South Carolina was the last place he actually showed up) can bolster a fairly weak corps, though Williamson is looking like a possible cut. The jury is still out on whether or not Reggie Williams and Matt Jones can become consistent players. If the receivers struggle to get open, Garrard will be forced to do to much on his own, which is how QB’s end up on the sideline.

The question marks: The WR’s and the defensive line. We’ve gone over the WR’s already, but the defensive line? Isn’t that one of the strength of this team? It will be, if Rob Meier can adequately replace Marcus Stroud and rookies Derrick Harvey (Editor’s note: Yes, he finally signed) and Quentin Groves can contribute to the Jaguars pass rush. If Meier can’t keep blockers off of the linebackers and get penetration in the gaps, the run defense will suffer. And if the young guys can’t help generate front four pressure, Peyton Manning will do his thing against them. Again.

Fantasy forecast: Maurice Jones-Drew is a top 25 fantasy player. Fred Taylor will probably stay in your fantasy starting lineup all year. Garrard is worth a second QB pick for now, though he may quickly ascend to starter status. Be cautious selecting their receivers; they’re all bench guys for now. Not a bad defense pick.

Overview: They want the Colts and the division title. Bad. The running game is excellent, and they’re going to control clock. The defense may end up being a 3-4 by season’s end, which will mean QB’s are going to have to get used to brand new blitz schemes. Their secondary is solid, and Rashean Mathis is a very, very good corner. I think they are one of the four Superbowl contenders in the AFC (Editor’s note: He doesn’t want to reveal it here, but I do: this is the year they catch the Colts. Just a gut feeling).

Tennessee Titans

Strengths: Vince Young’s legs. Their running game was very good last year (5th best in the league) and will get better with the addition of Jake Scott and burner Chris Johnson, who has seemed to impress everyone so far. Albert Haynesworth is a beast in the middle, Kyle Vanden Bosch had 12 sacks last season, and they have a very good stable of LB’s led by Keith Bullock and David Thornton. They are stingy against the run and picked off opposing QB’s 22 times last year. Their defense will keep them close all year long.

Weaknesses: Vince Young’s arm. 8 TD’s to 17 INT’s is brutal. Alge Crumpler should help, but the receiving corps is probably this team’s weakest unit. And can they score in the red zone?

The question marks: It’s Vince Young. Without a doubt, the entire season hinges on the arm of number 10. He doesn’t have to carry the load of this team, but can he at least be more accurate with his throws and make better decisions? If he can manage the game and mix in big runs, the Titans, though not flashy, will have an effective offense. Though don’t expect his WR’s to make his life easy.

Fantasy forecast: Yeah, right. This is not a team conducive to fantasy football points. LenDale White isn’t a bad third to fourth option in your running back stable. Chris Johnson is worth stockpiling – he has big play potential. Alge Crumpler will probably be VY’s favorite target, so don’t be afraid of using him as a first TE if you’re up at the end of a TE run. Their defense will keep the games lower scoring and get some turnovers, so they aren’t a terrible option.

Overview: Boy, its really hard to predict this flashy but inconsistent team. (Editor’s note: Riiiiiiight). Defensively, they’ll be stout. Haynesworth is a stud, maybe the best DT is football. I don’t think anybody would say he has to step it up. (Editor’s note: Uggggghhhhh. That wasn’t even good. The Pundit really stuck his foot on his mouth with that one. Sorry, couldn’t resist). Offensively, they’ll run the ball well and pass it poorly. Really, the question is how poorly? Because if it’s better than last year, they’ll probably be in the playoff hunt again this year. If it doesn’t improve at all, they’ll finish 4th in the AFC’s deepest division.

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