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5,000 Words Never Flew By So Quickly...NFC Preview

Just a few words on the Miami/Pittsburgh game to start with...

I'm 0-1 already but I don't think Miami played poorly. Their defense just got tired at the end from being on the field so long. They were up 17-14 late in the 4th and one good play call on 3rd and 2 away from salting away the game. Unfortunately, their offensive coordinator called one misdirection toss too many to Ronnie Brown and the Steelers were all over it. After that it was just the matter of isolating Heath Miller on Zach Thomas, who was having a hell of a game until then.

The Steelers were good, but not great. Joey Porter had the typical overrated superstar game. He had a sack on Miami's first possession when a fullback tried to block him, then did nothing for 57 minutes, and then had another sack when a tight end tried to block him, and then a pick returned for a touchdown. Nobody is gonna remember the 57 minutes in the middle, right?

But yeah the Steelers did what they do. But if they think that Willie Parker can survive a whole year with 30 touches a game, they're nuts. I guess they agree because they signed Najeh Davenport. It would've been fitting if they cut Duce Staley to make room for him, but they didn't.

Anybody get that? Huh?

For Miami, Duante Culpepper was horrid, throwing balls over the place, but maybe it's just first game jitters. He wasn't helped any that they couldn't run the ball. Still, he missed a lot of open guys and could've easily finished with four picks. The only reason they were even in the game the first half was because Wes Walker was playing out of his mind.

Let's see where the Dolphins are in a month. If they're not 3-1 going into Foxboro, something's seriously wrong.

Now onto the NFC picks...

NFC East

1) Philadelphia Eagles 11-5... The one major question I had about them - where's the speed at WR?- was answered late in preseason with the acquisition of Donte Stallworth from the Saints. Now I think my team is pretty strong everywhere.

Are there areas of concern? Yes, a few.

Both our two main RBs, Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter, are more fragile than faberge eggs. All our backups on the O-line are rookies. The two starting OLBs are pretty weak. Still, that's not a whole lot to despair over, compared to other clubs.

I absolutely loved our draft, we pretty much picked the guy I wanted in every round except for one, and even the last picks, DT LaJuan Ramsey and MLB Omar Gaither look like diamonds in the rough. Signing free agent DE Darren Howard, in addition to the drafting of Florida State's Broderick Bunkley in the 1st round, gives them a dominant front line.

The most encouraging sign is that the front office finally seems to have learned that they shouldn't overvalue some of their players' abilities because they're "good guys." In the past month we've jettisoned C Hank Fraley, MLB Mark Simoneau, FB Josh Parry, QB Koy Detmer, and last but not least, WR Todd Pinkston. Guys whom you'd love to introduce to your sister, to various degrees, but none of them could play worth a lick.

It's actually a weird vibe being an Eagles fan now, there's almost nobody left to boo.

Okay, maybe three guys.

Punt returner Reno Mahe, who is vehemently despised in Eagle nation for many reasons I can't get into, and the starting OLBs, Dhani "Bowtie man" Jones, and Matt McCoy. They hate the former because he talks a good game and makes no plays, and the latter because he was a 2nd round pick last year and seems way too small to play the position.

And some people boo Donovan, but they're mostly crazy degenerates.

But yes, as long as our health is good and the coach remembers to call a running play every now and then, I think the Iggles will stage a big-time resurgence. Their bizarro schedule is super easy in the first half (we're talkin' 7-1 here folks) and sadistic in the second half (at Ind, vs Car, then three straight road division games in December?) so a good start is critical.

2) New York Giants 10-6.. Believe it or not, but I actually like them a lot too. The acquisition of CB Sam Madison and FS Will Demps should help the secondary if for no other reason that it couldn't get any worse. Still, it'd have been a better pick up three years ago. I don't know how much LaVar Arrington will be since he's always hurt and doesn't always stick to his assignments on defense. A hardass like Tom Coughlin won't like that very much. Their D-line should be a monster, though I was puzzled as to why they used their 1st rounder on DE Mathias Kiwanuka when they already have Michael Strahan and Osi Umeniyora, plus Justin Tuck from last year's draft. Surely they had other needs.

I'm looking for the offense to take it up a couple of notches in Eli Manning's third year and they will as long as they can keep Tiki Barber healthy for one more year. I don't know how much Sinorice Rice as the 3rd receiver will help them though; the guy isn't nearly the home run hitter people make him out to be. He averaged like 11 yards a reception last year in Miami, so he wasn't exactly racking up the YACs.

More negatives than positives? Not really. I think enough of the Giants to have them finishing up at 10-6 after a sked that's so gruesome at the beginning that they're a mortal lock to start 2-4 at best. Of course their rebound won't impress their diehards...

3) Dallas Cowboys 8-8... Peter King and the drama queens seem to be a bit confused. Just because the Cowboys have enough dramatic angles to be the real-life "Playmakers" that doesn't mean that they're Super Bowl, or even playoff caliber. Interesting does not = good.

Still, the similarities between the TV show and Dallas are striking.

-You have the conflict between the coach and the owner... check.

-Controversy between two players at the same position (Drew Bledsoe/Tony Romo) ... check.

-A player with a drug problem (Safety Marcus Coleman suspended for violating the league's drug policy)... check.

- A prima donna asshole on the team nobody likes (guess who)... check.

All we need is Ohio State's Bobby Carpenter to crack the starting lineup, and we'll have a white middle linebacker prominently involved too. And you know somebody here will crack a significant other before the year's out (my money is on LB Bradie James, just a hunch).

Anyway, the Playmakers team didn't make the playoffs, and the Cowboys won't either. They should have used the money they gave TO on help for the O-line and secondary. They were perfectly fine at WR. Basically I think the TO move was to garner attraction and ratings, not wins. Jerry Jones wants the Cowboys to be the lead story on SportsCenter every night, regardless of their record. All the drama and love triangles between the quintet of Parcells/Jones/TO/Bledsoe/Romo will blow up in the Cowboys' faces and the season will be a disaster, at least on the field, no matter how good the front seven plays on d.

In a way I'm severely disappointed in Parcells for how he's caved in to TO every single time. It's gotten to the point where I'm expecting him to coach the games in a wheelchair because it'll be too painful for him to walk (if you get my meaning). Clearly he's just mailing it in right now and settling for the paycheck. The Parcells of old would've stuck to his guns with Romo and forbid the owner from getting someone as poisonous as Owens. In a football sense the best thing the Cowboys could've done, besides using the TO money elsewhere as I've said, would've been to dump Bledsoe and Parcells and gone with Romo and Sean Payton (on the Saints now) as coach. But we've established that Jerry Jones isn't interested in football. If he hadn't gotten Owens do you really think the whole country would be getting Dal/Jax as the late match-up on Fox? Puh-lease. Even Mark Cuban isn't this transparent. At least he wants to win, even if he's a whiny cheating baby.

4) Washington Redskins 6-10.. And we move on to a team that will be neither good nor interesting. God does this team do stupid shit every season with free agents. They picked up two smurf WRs to go with Santana Moss. Antwaan Randle El looks great running gimmick plays and on the occasional punt return, but as a receiver, he's being paid William T. Riker money on the basis of 600 yards and 1 TD last season? And Brandon Lloyd is more gutless than Pinkston. He'll make a great highlight catch with no one around him, but he's going to alligator arm everything in between the hashmarks.

Clinton Portis' shoulder will be a problem all year (he said so himself) so count him out as an effective receiver or blocker. And "stealing" T.J. Duckett as insurance? What a joke. Of course none of this will matter since Mark Brunell doesn't have the arm to get it out to anybody, and he'll be worn out by midseason. The team should just swallow its pride and christen the Jason Campbell Era, but of course Daniel Snyder will never swallow his pride. I'll bet anyone five bucks that the guy's pecker can't be more than four inches, fully aroused. And that state is only achieved with the benefit of a full length mirror.

On defense they'll be stout vs the run, but I don't see the necessary ingredients here for an effective pass rush, so defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will have to blitz a bunch. Good thing they got Adam Archuleta and Mike Rumph to "bolster" the secondary. Oy vey.

NFC North

1) Chicago Bears 10-6.. I admit I was growing worried about the direction these guys getting themselves into, but late in the preseason they finally came to their senses and handed the starting RB job back to its rightful owner, Thomas Jones. Nobody on the team likes Cedric Benson, and you could tell right off from the interview on his draft day that the guy was a prime candidate to be a nutcase. I don't know how excited the guys up front would've been to block for him all year. Now they won't have to.

At quarterback much is made of the Rex Grossman/Brian Griese debate, but I don't really care which of them plays and I doubt anyone else does either. As long as Kyle Orton doesn't start ten games this season, it'll be an upgrade. I see that Bernard Barrian is penciled in as the starting wideout opposite Mushin Muhammed, and I wonder about the state of Mark Bradley's recovery from the ACL he suffered in midseason last year. He was off to a promising start for a rookie before the injury and I think if everything else was equal, he's the 2nd best WR on the roster.

There isn't much to discuss with the defense, we all know they're set there. The only concern with them is that there doesn't appear to much depth behind the starters. But really the Bears should win this division, filled with low wattage offenses, rather comfortably.

2) Minnesota Vikings 8-8.. Brad Johnson, the league's oldest (and least paid) starting QB at 37, is backed up by rookie Tarvaris Jackson and Brooks Bollinger who they signed from the Jets two hours ago. Well this can't possibly go wrong, huh?

They might be okay if they run, run, run, and to that end the acquisitions of LG Steve Hutchinson from the Seahawks, FB Tony Richardson from the Chefs, and RB Chester Taylor from the Ravens were all good ideas, but I don't know how much rookie coach Brad Childress has the temperament and discipline in him to stick with the running game since he's been in Philly all those years. Then again, since giving Koren Robinson that big contract blew up in their faces, they had to sign...(wait for it)...Todd Pinkston! They might not have a choice but to hand it off.

On defense they've already suffered some bad luck with season ending training camp injuries to S Tank Williams and 1st round pick OLB Chad Greenway, and I'm not too thrilled with their situation at linebacker. Could the Vikes steal the division? Maybe if everything breaks right for them and wrong for the Bears, but I don't see it.

Detroit Lions 6-10.. Another trendy King pick I find ridiculous. I understand that these players needed a "tough" coach, but doesn't anyone understand that Rod Martinelli is clinically insane? The guy spent the past two decades as a defensive line coach. Have y'all seen how defensive line coaches act when they're miked on NFL Films? They're lunatics. Their act might work fine when your job description is "hit the wholly fuck outta the guy in front of you" but it's not going to be so produce the desired results when leading an entire organization. All the proof you need is that the guy had his team fly to Oakland THE DAY OF THE GAME in preseason to "toughen them up." That shit isn't even allowed by the league in the regular season. In a completely unrelated coincidence, Oakland killed them, 21-3.

And does anyone think that hiring another weirdo, Mike Martz, as offensive coordinator will be a good idea? All this guy wants to do is pass every play, score 30 points a game, impress some GM out there enough to give him a head coach job, and get the hell out of Detroit. You really think this'll mesh with a defensive head coach who'll be looking to keep things close to the vest so that his guys won't have to be on the field all day or to start their defensive possessions from deep inside their own territory after YET ANOTHER turnover by the offense?

Of course the main culprit here is GM Matt Millen who's left the cupboard woefully short of talent on both sides of the ball. I'm proud to say that I knew he'd be terrible at his job before anybody. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. Millen was working as the color guy in the booth along with Dick Stockton and a Rams game was on, pre-Kurt Warner era. Tony Banks was actually the QB, and he happened to have his one good game of the season that week.

So the resident genius Stockton sees a black QB wearing # 12, and gushes, "Tony Banks is looking like a young Randall Cunningham out there!"

And our man Millen, perhaps caught up in the moment, added the immortal words, "Randall was never THIS good."

Right then, not only was Millen dead to me, but I knew that any team that hired him to evaluate personnel was doomed.

So yeah, best of luck to Detroit. Just because Kevin Jones has averaged 3 yards a carry in preseason behind that terrible line, nobody should panic. And Jon Kitna's clearly been a winner everywhere he's been, right? And I'm not worried at all that their best WR, Roy Williams is either hurt or running the wrong route 70% of the time or that their 2nd guy is Corey Bradford. And I totally think the defense will be really strong this year. I don't see how losing DT Dan Wilkinson, their best run stuffer, or having the worst set of starting safeties in the league can work against them at all.

Green Bay Packers 4-12.. Sadly there's a team out there in even worse shape. I agree with Jason Whitlock, (there's five words I thought I'd never type) if Brett Favre wanted to be traded in the off-season, he should have been a man about it and told the organization, the fans, the media, everybody. He didn't want to look like the bad guy so he just bit his lip and held the organization hostage for another off-season.

Does he actually think the front office wants him there? How many more hints, in the form of a terrible roster can they give him that it's time to move on? They trade away his wideouts. They let his linemen sign elsewhere. They draft his replacement in the 1st round when they had holes everywhere. I mean, how dense is this guy? Relationships in high school end more maturely than this.

I think the biggest culprits here are the fans actually. No matter how terrible the guy plays, they worship him, and as long as that continues to be the case, everyone will just accept the status quo. Could any other QB in the league have avoided being benched last season with 29 picks? Would any other team's fans not have booed their guy in that situation? It was hysterical at the sports bar last year, where after every pick this Cheesehead nutcase there would blame the WR for running the wrong route or the linemen for forcing the awful throw. Every. Single. Pick.

When I saw the devotion the guy still had for Favre after some of those games - still claiming he was better than Joe Montana ever was - I can almost understand how some people still defend George Bush to this day. If he's your guy, he's your guy, I guess.

Personally I think the front office's strategy was to see Favre carried out on his shield, but no matter how young or how awful their o-line gets, the old bastard won't get hurt.

It reminds me of the Denis Leary joke that goes something like "Only the really talented musicians die early from drugs, the Janis Joplins and Kurt Cobains and Jimi Hendrixes. But you can lock Mutley Crue in a room with 50 lbs of coke, and they'd come out ten minutes later screamin' ROCK ON!!!"

I suppose all this talk about Favre doesn't serve as in depth Packers analysis, but trust me, they all kinds of suck.

NFC South

1) Carolina Panthers 12-4.. The trendy pick to represent the NFC in the Supe, and it's obvious to see why as they're loaded on both sides of the ball. They have a QB at the top of his game, big play guys at RB and WR, and a defensive line that's going to make life miserable for people all year.

So why don't I love them?

Because I'm an Eagles fan, that's why. No actually, I think while they've upgraded at RB with DeAngelo Williams and at WR, marginally, with Keyshawn Johnson, and at D-line with the healthy return (however brief) of Kris Jenkins, I also think they've regressed a bit in the back seven on defense, losing OLB Will Weatherspoon, who made a ton of plays for them last year along with Marlon McCree and Ricky Manning Jr.

Actually, I think it'll be kind of a down year in their division, and the toughest competition for these guys will come away from the NFC South. They've got games at Cincinnati, at Baltimore, at Philadelphia, and at Washington, plus home dates with the Steelers, Giants, and Cowboys. But they'll win the South because they have too much offense for Tampa and too much defense for Atlanta.

2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-7.. While I think they've found their QB in Chris Simms, I'm not quite sold that the line in front of him can do the job on a consistent basis. Also, I think it's unrealistic to expect WR Joey Galloway to duplicate his '05 numbers at 34 years old. The offense will be middle of the pack, nothing more, unless TE Alex Smith and RB Cadillac Williams have monster sophomore campaigns.

As for the D, I think they'll be aiight, but a bit long in the tooth. Double team Simeon Rice and they have no pass rush. And their starting MLB Shelton Quarles is 35? Holy shit. Not wild about the safeties either. I'm basically picking them to do this well because I think Michael Vick sucks and that Jon Gruden can coach rings around Jim Mora Jr. But it won't be enough.

3) Atlanta Falcons 8-8.. Um..the last sentence of my TB commentary kind of says it all about the Falcons, no? No?

Okay, let me sum it up then. I HATE MICHAEL VICK. I fucking despise him. He is second (and a close second) to TO as my least favorite player, a considerable achievement. I hate every single thing about him. I hate his game, I hate his arrogance, I hate his attitude like he's accomplished a lot when he really hasn't, I hate that he blames his coordinators and coaches for his shortcomings, and I especially hate that he buys his own hype. I even hate his ugly ass pig tails.

Mostly I hate the comparisons to Cunningham which are incredibly stupid since Randall could, you know, pass. In fact he's in the top ten all time in TD/Int ratio and has had several seasons of over 3,000 yards passing and 20 TDs.

Oh and as a runner, he actually could use juke and spin moves a la Barry Sanders to make people miss instead of "just running by everybody real fast" which is totally lame.

I hate that Vick blamed his loss in the NFC Championship game on the cold weather when the truth of it was that he just played like total ass. I hate that he told the on field reporter on MNF football next year that the offense "silenced" the critics in beating the Eagles when they scored a whopping 14 points and made his coach scared shitless to call a pass play in the entire second half.

I hate that he said the NE/Atl game last season "would be a match up of two great quarterbacks" when a) he miscounted by one and b) chickened out of the game with an owwie at the last second and let Matt Schaub face the Pats instead.

I did like it very much when he said, "I have two weapons, my arm, my legs, and my brain." Also, I found it lovely that he gave somebody herpes and went by the alias "Ron Mexico" in his attempts to cover it up.

A perfect compliment to Vick is Jim Mora Jr., who's a spoiled whiny baby, every bit out of control on the sidelines and in press conferences as Avery Johnson, if not more. Especially enjoyable are his tirades after Vick struggles when he's ranting like a moron, "All you guys say is Mike can't do this, Mike can't do that... how come none of you rip Peyton Manning for not running? How come nobody says Tom Brady can't run?" The guy is a sociopath, and every bit as immature as the gang of thugs he's collected on defense. They're like the Mavericks really, but without the threat of ever winning a big game.

4) New Orleans Saints 5-11...

I like Drew Brees. I like Deuce McAllister. I think Sean Payton was a smart hire as head coach. I love Reggie Bush. I even have a soft sport in my heart for the poor ravaged people of New Orleans, so I'll give them a couple of sympathy wins there. But in all seriousness, they might field the single worst defense of the last twenty years. I'll root for them in fifteen of the sixteen games they play, but that won't help a whole hell of a lot, believe me.

NFC West

1) Seattle Seahawks 10-6.. On paper they look good. Sure they could use another wide receiver. And they did lose the best guard in football, Steve Hutchinson. And I think their starting TE Jerramy Stevens will miss a few games. But for a team coming off a Supe loss, they're in pretty good shape.

But they are coming off a Super Bowl loss. AND Shaun Alexander was on the cover of Madden. I'm going to drop them a couple of wins because I think their division will be a little better this season and also I think they really caught the entire NFC in a down year in '05 and the conference should be a bit more competitive this year.

Talent wise, they don't blow me away, on either side of the ball. I didn't really notice too much of a difference between the team that went to the big one last year and the one that finished 8-8 every other year. They just caught lightning in a bottle in '05. I don't think they're resilient enough to win playoff road games (if it even comes to that, hint).

2) Arizona Cardinals 9-7.. Everyone got on their bandwagon last year, smelled the offensive live, and jumped off almost immediately. Well I'm not jumping. Mainly it's because I refuse to have more than four returning NFC teams in the playoffs and I think it's unrealistic to have both wild card teams from the same division. So Arizona qualifies as "Sixth best NFC team in my mind that's not Tampa Bay or Dallas." Throw a parade.

Of course, they're almost guaranteed to get off to an 0-1 start after it came out that they hand picked the 49ers for their stadium opener. Bad karma galore.

Anyway, I'm not an idiot, I know the O-line is bad news. But there are too many skill position guys in two wideouts, Edgerrin James, and the rookie TE Leonard Pope from USC, to not make this work. Think "three step drop." Also, having Edge back there as the best blitz pickup RB in football should buy Kurt Warner an extra second. And if Warner gets hurt, the dropoff won't be too severe with Matt Leinart.

Yeah yeah, I know, rationalization city. I'm hoping playing to a sell out crowd for once will inspire the defense or something. Whatever. All I know is I like them a hell of a lot more than everyone else's Cinderella, the Lions.

3) San Francisco 49ers 6-10.. They improved by two wins last year and I say they'll do it again in '06. Getting rid of team cancer Kevan (my parents don't know how to spell Kevin) Barlow was an excellent move. Frank Gore is now the clear cut # 1 back, and he should have a great season if he can run mainly behind Larry Allen's gigantic ass.

As far as the passing game goes, Antonio Bryant is an upgrade to all sizzle no steak Brandon Lloyd, and grabbing TE Vernon Davis in the 1st round should give Alex Smith a consistently open target in the middle time and again. Whether Davis will catch the ball is another story.

And on defense! Um...well they'll play hard.

4) St. Louis Rams 6-10.. The skinny guys on both sides of the ball are all nice and swell and look great in their uniforms. The fat guys on the team however aren't so good, and this team will suffer greatly for it. More accurately, I think they'll have problems in pass protection and in stopping the run. To say I have lost my steam would be an insult to steam at this point. Somebody's gotta finish last, and it can't be the 49ers every year. End of story.

If you want something more concrete and technical, I think Steven Jackson will dislocate both knees when somebody tries to tackle him by pulling hard on his hair just as he's making a sharp cut. Nobody's gonna remember the Joe Theismann injury in twenty years thanks to this one.


Wild Card Weekend

3 Denver vs 6 Cincinnati ..... Bengals win
4 Baltimore vs 5 Kansas City .... Ravens win

3 Chicago vs 6 Arizona.... Bears win
4 Seattle vs 5 New York... Giants win

Divisional Playoffs

1 Indianapolis vs 6 Cincinnati..... Colts win
2 Miami vs 4 Baltimore..... Ravens win

1 Carolina vs 5 New York ..... Panthers win
2 Philadelphia vs 3 Chicago ... Eagles win

Conference Championships

1 Indianapolis vs 4 Baltimore .... Colts win
1 Carolina vs 2 Philadelphia ... Eagles win

Super Bowl

1 Indianapolis vs 2 Philadelphia ... Eagles win!

There, just as biased and illogical as the Sports Guy. Where's my check?

Week 1 Picks...

Denver at St.Louis (+3.5) Broncos to win and cover
NYJ at Tennessee (-2.5) Jets to win and cover
Atlanta at Carolina (-5) Panthers to win and cover
Cincinnati at Kansas City (even) Chiefs to win and cover
Seattle at Detroit (+ 6) Seahawks to win, Lions to cover
Philadelphia at Houston (+5.5) Eagles to win and cover
Baltimore at Tampa Bay (-3) Ravens to win and cover
New Orleans at Cleveland (-3) Saints to win and cover
Buffalo at New England (-10) Patriots to win, Bills to cover
Chicago at Green Bay (+3.5) Bears to win and cover
San Francisco at Arizona (-7.5) Cardinals to win, 49ers to cover
Dallas at Jacksonville (even) Jacksonville to win and cover
Indianapolis at NYG (+3) Colts to win and cover
Minnesota at Washington (-4.5) Redskins to win, Vikings to cover
San Diego at Oakland (+3) Raiders to win and cover