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FOOTBALL SICKNESS NFL POWER RANKINGS, WEEK 4

In an effort to fit in with the crowd and also as a platform for further discussion of the NFL, we decided a Football Sickness Power Rankings series was warranted. My only criteria here is what I see on the field and in the box score. This will probably shift around quite a bit over the next few weeks as teams continue to show us their true colors over a larger sample size. For now, here’s what I’ve seen so far:

FOOTBALLSICKNESS.COM NFL POWER RANKINGS, PRE WEEK 4

Troy Polamalu and the Steelers defense have held down the fort and then some in Big Ben's absence.

1. PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Best defense in the game and a 2-time Super Bowl Champion QB getting ready to come back.

2. GREEN BAY PACKERS: A potential juggernaut on both sides of the ball lead by an emerging great in Aaron Rodgers.

3. NEW YORK JETS: Well. That got better in a hurry, didn’t it?

4. BALTIMORE RAVENS: It hasn’t been anywhere near perfect, but to me that’s the scary thing.

5. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Wake up call for the defending champs. Let’s see how they respond.

6. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: They still have #18. They’re fine.

7. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Suddenly, the Michael Vick signing looks like a stroke of genius. The McNabb trade is another story.

8. MIAMI DOLPHINS: Quietly looking like one of the more complete football teams in the NFL.

9. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: They’ll go as far as their defense lets them.

10. ATLANTA FALCONS: I was impressed by the win at the Super Dome, in part because Matt Ryan had developed some troubling, if early, home-road splits.

11. HOUSTON TEXANS: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…

12. TENNESSEE TITANS: Tough D, nearly unstoppable rushing attack, occasionally brilliant athletic quarterback…dangerous.

13. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Their fans will complain, but I’m watching. I just need a little more convincing. The Niners win was extremely impressive, but maybe the Niners suck. The Chargers never play well. And I’m a Browns fan, so…Please. But show me something coming out of the bye at Indy. You don’t even have to win. But you have to hang.

14. CHICAGO BEARS: I’m not at all convinced, but the defense especially has me believing they’re going to be a factor. I don’t trust anybody on the offense and I despise the lack of protection, but I recognize there’s talent. Again, I need to see more.

15. DALLAS COWBOYS: I had them much higher, but Sen Dog convinced me I should be more worried about them. For now, I am.

16. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: Standard Operating Procedure for NorvCo.

17. CINCINNATI BENGALS: So much promise, so many questions…

18. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: I still don’t see where the explosiveness is coming from outside of Adrian Peterson, and while they’ve played fine, the defense just doesn’t look as dominant.  We’ll see.

19. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: I’m officially giving them a chance to win the NFC West. Fun to watch on defense.

20. WASHINGTON REDSKINS: I don’t think badly of the Redskins, I just don’t think they’re all that good.

21. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Maybe it’s unfair, but the only real team you’ve played laid waste to your pirate ship.

22. NEW YORK GIANTS: And falling.

23. ARIZONA CARDINALS: Welcome to the Derek Anderson Show, ladies and gentlemen!

24. DENVER BRONCOS: I have no idea who these guys are. No idea where they’ll end up. But this reflects what I’ve seen so far.

25. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: I got sucked in by the Saints game. No more. Win a few. Convincingly.

26. OAKLAND RAIDERS: Man, what a disappointment thus far. I still think they’re a pretty good football team, but they’re still not getting good enough quarterback play. Gradkowski looks under control, but…he’s Bruce Gradkowski.

27. CLEVELAND BROWNS: Could easily be 3-0. But then, that’s the point, isn’t it?

28. ST. LOUIS RAMS: Sam Bradford = Bright future in St. Louis.

29. DETROIT LIONS: I love the way they might look in a year or two.

30. CAROLINA PANTHERS: In danger of falling off the list entirely. Already irrelevant in 2010.

31. BUFFALO BILLS: Only spared the cellar by a relatively strong performance against the Patriots last weekend.

32. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: I haven’t seen one positive. Long year for the Jags.

ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION?

Having caught almost all of every game so far, I’ve noticed a few things, and figured I’d pass them along. After three weeks, (Insert NFL Team Here) needs to notice that…

ARIZONA CARDINALS: …they should’ve noticed in the offseason that they had no quarterback. Because, well…that’s an issue.

ATLANTA FALCONS: …Jason Snelling is awfully good. I know you love Michael Turner. We all do, really. But wouldn’t it be nice to have him fresh for the stretch run? Use Snelling more, I say. They’ve showed a few signs but I’d be a run heavy team like the Giants of a few years ago with those two guys.

BALTIMORE RAVENS: …Joe Flacco plays better when you open it up. He’s a quarterback. Those guys like to throw. I know not everybody has Eric Wright out there, but still…I think they need to sling it around a bit more early in the season.

BUFFALO BILLS: …CJ Spiller scores touchdowns when you give him the ball. (I didn’t say these were all going to be sophisticated, now did I?)

CAROLINA PANTHERS: …I don’t know. Maybe that the season has started?

CHICAGO BEARS: …they are an extremely weak 3-0 and would not be but for technicalities and sloppy opponents. That stuff doesn’t last for 16 games.

CINCINNATI BENGALS: …Carson Palmer’s “eventual” replacement is a discussion that needs to be had sooner rather than later.

CLEVELAND BROWNS: …they would have won all three of their games with just one fewer mistake in each game.

DALLAS COWBOYS: …they have a power running game, should they simply choose to use it.

DENVER BRONCOS: …plenty of winning teams somehow manage to manage difficult but talented personalities, and it helps them win.

DETROIT LIONS: …their next high draft pick needs to be an offensive lineman of some kind. In fact, I might spend several 2011 picks on the OL if I were them.

GREEN BAY PACKERS: …Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn aren’t going to sufficiently emulate Ryan Grant. And also, Aaron Rodgers’ college teammate Marshawn Lynch is available and could be the difference between making it to Dallas in February and not.

HOUSTON TEXANS: …the NFL rulebook does indeed allow defenses to cover opposing wide receivers.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: …a big part of the reason they’ve struggled at inopportune moments over the past decade is because they refuse to establish a running game.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: …it’s time to move on from the David Garrard Era. He’s strangely effective, but he’s not taking you anywhere.

Todd Haley needs to recognize: Jamaal Charles has crazy game.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: …Jamaal Charles just makes plays. Seven yards per carry, 18 yards per catch. Get him the damn ball.

MIAMI DOLPHINS: …I go to the stadium for football, not a halftime cabaret starring your franchise’s celebrity ownership conglomerate. But they should also notice that Chad Henne is ready to have the training wheels removed now that he’s got the Beast in town.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS: …they appear to be noticing it: Adrian Peterson is their only hope.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: …they are now the third best defense in their division. Better make a change, a move, or both.

NEW YORK GIANTS: …many teams are using the quick passing game for ball control purposes nowadays, and that they need to be one of those teams.

NEW YORK JETS: …they are an infinitely better team when Mark Sanchez is allowed freedom.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: …2010 is not 2009. You can’t just turn it on.

OAKLAND RAIDERS: …the defense isn’t playing as well as it should. They’re plenty talented. Make the adjustment.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: …LeSean McCoy is still on the roster, and that much like the Colts, your struggles often stem from a lack of commitment to the run game.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS: …they’re the best team in the league right now, even without Ben Roethlisberger. Hmmm.

ST. LOUIS RAMS: …they can compete in their division soon with a couple more pieces.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: …playing hardball has consequences.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: …they are missing a golden opportunity.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: …they are a much better team when they use more aggressive playcalling on both sides of the ball.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: …this is not the Tampa 2 the way I remember it just yet.

TENNESSEE TITANS: …Vince Young is their quarterback. I mean this several different ways. Let it roll around for a bit.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS: …while they are improved thanks to DMac5, he still doesn’t allow them to continue to make mistakes and win.

NFL WEEK 3 IN REVIEW: WELCOME TO THE PARTY! (NOW GO HOME.)

Week 3 was time for some teams that had underachieved early to wake up and set the tone for the rest of the season, and also time for brave pretenders to be knocked

down a few pegs. We had a few beatdowns, some battle royales, and even a Roy Williams sighting. Thanks to modern technology, I’ve seen most of every game, and can confirm that we’ve reached the portion of the season where we truly start separating the men from the boys. Let’s take a spin around the week that was in the NFL.

Roy Williams helped the Cowboys get off the mat in Houston.

DALLAS COWBOYS 27, HOUSTON TEXANS 13: The Cowboys are the impetus for the first half of this week’s title. It’s about time, boys. I picked the Texans because I was impressed with their ability to win two different styles of football game. But I also picked the Texans because I was thoroughly unimpressed with the Cowboys in weeks one and two. They were playing flat, they weren’t sustaining drives on offense, they appeared to have completely forgotten about the running game, and, of course, they were losing. A better team showed up on Sunday and showed, even in an imperfect performance, that they are loaded. Look, a lot of teams are comfortable leaving a defensive back 1-on-1 on your third wide receiver. But, as much as we can harp on Princess Roy’s bust factor, he’s still going to toast your nickel guy in single coverage frequently- as he did twice against Houston. Speaking of which, the Texans need to get a handle on the pass defense, pronto, or all of Matt Schaub’s newfound confidence and grittiness will be for naught. They just faced a desperate Cowboys team that absolutely handled them. Next, off to the Black Hole to face a desperate Raiders team that lost a game because of their kicker this week. Uh-oh.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 31, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 10: And the Niners are the impetus for the second half of this week’s title. At 0-3, they’re fortunate to be in the worst division in the NFL and therefore still in it. But they fired Offensive Coordinator Jimmy Raye this morning, their quarterback apparently refuses to put two consecutive solid performances together, and they just got rolled on the road by an opponent that three weeks ago the entire football world outside of Kansas City believed was inferior. The Chiefs stuffed the Niners offense all day, and San Francisco’s allegedly elite defense gave up a bunch of points to an offense that had not been sustaining drives. As impressed as I was by the Monday Night game (sans turnovers) against New Orleans, it all just got cancelled out. These guys are probably done, and with all the chaos at Candlestick, I know more than one Niners fan who hopes Mike Singletary’s tenure at the helm is, as well. Meanwhile, I owe the Kansas City Chiefs an apology. They clearly have a game plan (strangely devoid of Jamaal Charles though it has been), buy-in from the team, and execution of an increasingly effective kind. I still have plenty of questions, but the direction is undeniable. The Chiefs now have my full attention.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 27, SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 20: Yes, as a matter of fact, I will take instant credit for calling this one. I was even close on the score, having predicted a 23-21 Seahawks victory. My reasoning was that the Seahawks had things that the Chiefs already proved the Chargers struggled with, and the Chargers proved me dead right. Someday, I assume they will do so again by replacing Norv Turner, the NFL’s Mr. October. How many times can a team come out flat in September and awkwardly fold in January before someone notices a pattern around here? Just awful. Meanwhile, Pete Carroll is winning over his players and the Seahawks still have the baddest 12th Man in the NFL. Leon Washington’s two kickoff returns covered some warts on offense and defense, but it’s a three-phase game, folks. I like what I’m seeing in the “find a way to win” department. The Seahawks are 2-1 and are going to be heard from in an even-weaker-than-I-thought NFC West.

NEW YORK JETS 31, MIAMI DOLPHINS 23: What a game. In what I can only assume was a preview of fantastic battles for years to come, Mark Sanchez and Chad Henne went head to head with two fantastic defenses and performed like seasoned pros. This was a fun one to watch, and reaffirmed that the AFC East is going to be a wide-open battle all season long with three playoff quality teams.  Sanchez’s maturation is one of the stories of the year, because let’s face it: if THAT defense has an offense to match, they’re just going to be tough to beat. That Dolphins team is no slouch, and the Jets went to their house and won in prime time. He’s still going to have some ugly moments (like that pathetic hand off to a defensive lineman who saved his hide by dropping it), but Sanchez is coming along. And apparently, so is the chemistry between Chad Henne and Brandon Marshall, who diced up the Jets’ Revisless secondary for a 10-166-1 line. Adding a top 5 wide receiver to a team with quality secondary receiving options and a strong run game makes a big difference. Miami can play with anybody.

CHICAGO BEARS 20, GREEN BAY PACKERS 17: SlopFest 2010. This game did not change my opinion about either of these teams, with one exception: the Packers need to upgrade the backfield depth, because Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn aren’t going to cut it. In short, Marshawn Lynch needs to be a Packer before the deadline. But I’m not at all impressed with the Bears’ victory, mostly because I view it more as a Packers loss. The Bears’ defense was solid, and Julius Peppers is an

Some of the stars of Monday Night Football battle between the Packers and Bears gather for a group shot.

animal. But Jay Cutler still throws up total garbage far too regularly, their receivers just aren’t difference-makers (aside from tight end Greg Olsen), and the Packers committed just over 7 million penalties to simply hand the game over. Well, that, and…who the hell punts to Devin Hester? More importantly, who does it again after he breaks a long one on his first opportunity? You lost the game by three lousy points. Probably would’ve helped to kick that out of bounds and hold them to a FG or less, don’t you think?

MINNESOTA VIKINGS 24, DETROIT LIONS 10: That unusually strong breeze you noticed was the entire state of Minnesota exhaling. They looked a little better, but I’m still not seeing a championship team here. The Lions are off to a tough start despite being obviously superior to the team they were running out there last year. Hang in there, Motor City.

BALTIMORE RAVENS 24, CLEVELAND BROWNS 17: I’ll say this for the Browns- they never cease to amaze me with their ability to find new and infuriating ways to lose. Eric Wright decided to employ the “I’m not really interested in being within 10 yards of Anquan Boldin” defense, which turned out to be ineffective. Q had three scores. Peyton Hillis and the gaping holes he ran through were the bright spot for the Browns. You have to wonder what a more dynamic back would’ve done with such room, but it’s impressive against a strong Ravens’ D, nonetheless. Meanwhile, Joe Flacco must’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing Boldin running around free all day, and had his first big game of the season. But the Ravens still haven’t had a “put it all together” game, and they need one, but it’s not likely to come this Sunday at Heinz. Buckle up, Joe.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 38, BUFFALO BILLS 30: The Bills have now committed to Not Trent Edwards as their starting quarterback, and appear to have noticed that CJ Spiller is on the roster. The electric rookie scored two touchdowns, one as a wideout and one as a returner. What say we get him the ball a few more times, Chan? The Bills hung tough but simply don’t have the horses to run a full sixty with the New England Patriots.  The Pats offense is fine, but that defense is not up to Belichickian standards. There are some talented young players on that unit, but their inexperience still outweighs their talent often enough that it has to be concerning to the Hoodie.

ATLANTA FALCONS 27, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 24: Scott Fujita’s favorite “fat punk kicker” blows a 29-yard chippie in overtime and the Falcons take advantage. This one was a battle throughout, though, and the Falcons served notice that they have no intention of simply conceding the NFC South to the defending Super Bowl Champs. Atlanta is physical and well coordinated on defense, and starting to show better balance on the offensive side of the ball. The Saints, on the other hand, still don’t really look right, and Reggie Bush’s injury is a big deal to that offense. How long does the average Super Bowl hangover last? Can’t wait for the rematch in the ATL.

TENNESSE TITANS 29, NEW YORK GIANTS 10: Here’s another one that merely confirmed for me what I already believed about the combatants. The Titans are a playoff contender and the Giants are talented at the skill positions on offense but lack their traditional dominance in the trenches on both sides of the ball, having grown older and slower. Not a good combination. Bad Eli showed up, and given that I think the Giants’ best chance to win is to chuck it around, it comes as no surprise to me that Bad Eli means a twenty-point loss for the G-Men. It’s going to be a long year for Big Blue. The Titans, however, have things to look forward to as long as #28 is in the backfield. Chris Johnson got back to business after a tough outing in Pittsburgh week 2, going for 125 yards and two scores.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS 38, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 13: The Pittsburgh Steelers have the best defense in the NFL. What a surprise. See, Tampa, that’s why you didn’t want to get too excited about your 2-0 start after wins over Cleveland and Carolina. That team you saw this weekend is what an NFL program is supposed to look like, and what you learned, if you’re paying attetion, is that you’ve got a long way to go.

CINCINNATI BENGALS 20, CAROLINA PANTHERS 7: This game was U-G-L-Y. Carson Palmer has simply never been the same guy since he got rolled up in the playoffs a few years back, and despite weapons all over the field the offense still looks out of rhythm. They’re not pounding it as effectively on the ground as they did a year ago, and the defense is on the field too much. But they’re still 2-1 and right in the hunt, so they have the opportunity to turn it up a notch. The 0-3 Panthers are already playing out the string. They just don’t know it yet.

ST. LOUIS RAMS 30, WASHINGTON REDSKINS 16: Sam Bradford gets his first win, which is good, but Steven Jackson got hurt, which isn’t. Jackson tweeted that it was just a sprain Sunday night, so hopefully he’s not out for too long. The Rams need him to have any chance to win games. The Redskins looked flat after a tough come-from-ahead loss against the Houston Texans week 2. They’d better get it together fast, because next up is a trip to Philly, where we will all be riveted to The Return of Donovan.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 28, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 3: So, apparently going with Michael Vick was the right decision. Vick handled every situation beautifully, made multiple unbelievable throws, and put the cherry on top with a 17-yard vintage Vick touchdown scamper. DeSean Jackson caught a touchdown, Jeremy Maclin caught two more, and the Eagles’ D shut down a Jacksonville attack largely devoid of talent, imagination, and attitude. But other than that they should be fine. I will say this for the Jags, however: Tyson Alualu was a fantastic draft choice at the number 10 slot, alleged pre-draft value be damned. The rookie D-lineman out of Cal is strong in both run and pass sets and is one of the few Jacksonville players who leaps off the screen.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 27, DENVER BRONCOS 13: Peyton Manning can throw it 57 times for 476 yards and have it be a good thing for his team. Kyle Orton can’t.

ARIZONA CARDINALS 24, OAKLAND RAIDERS 23: This one hurt for Raiders fans. If you draft a kicker in the first round and pay him a bajillion dollars, you expect him to make more than three of his six field goal tries on the day. And you damn sure expect him to make the 32-yarder at the gun. The Raiders have another tough one with the Texans coming to town this weekend, and a loss effectively ends their season. Houston can expect their best shot. Meanwhile, Arizona continues to prove that the decision to ignore better quarterbacking alternatives to Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson was also a self-sentence to irrelevance. Miraculously, they’re 2-1, and thanks to a miserable division they still have a shot at a playoff spot. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

DALLAS, WE HAVE A PROBLEM: NFL WEEK 3 PREVIEW & PICKS

Weeks 3 and 4 have always been key to my evaluation of who an NFL team really is. And this week 3 is a perfect example of that, because there are a ton of teams who have records that could be considered surprises or which, based on my observation, is masking either serious latent defects or a diamond within the coal. Let’s start with the game I will be absolutely glued to, Browns conflict or not.

THE FOOTBALLSICKNESS.COM GAME OF THE WEEK:

Memory or premonition? (Our guess? Buckle up, Tony.)

DALLAS COWBOYS AT HOUSTON TEXANS: This battle for 2010 Lone Star State supremacy looked interesting to me before the season started. Now? Utterly fascinating on numerous levels. The Texans have come out of the gates strong on what appear to be key adjustments to both attitude and philosophy. They embraced the challenge of the opener against the Colts, and ran the defending conference champions out of the building without Matt Schaub having to do anything besides turn around and extend the ball to Arian Foster.  Last week, they came back from seventeen down against a Redskins team that beat these Cowboys in week 1. They’re loaded, they’ve won two tough games in almost polar opposite fashion, and as a result, they’re confident. The Texans have my full attention.

So do the Cowboys, but for very different reasons. They say the more desperate team usually wins. What I can’t decide is: Do the Cowboys know they need to be desperate right now?  The “it’s darn near impossible to go 0-2 and make the playoffs” stat that everyone bandies about doesn’t concern me so much with this Dallas team. I think they’ll get the offense together and eventually be the class of the NFC East. But they’ve dug themselves a hole, and though I haven’t seen it, I’m guessing the 0-3 percentage ain’t better than the 0-2 percentage. And the Texans are no joke. You think they don’t want to smack the Cowboys around? And you think they haven’t learned the lesson these past several seasons that, until they’re there, they’re not there? I think they have. The desperate team might usually win, but right now, the Houston Texans are the better team, and they’re at home. Prove me right, boys.  TEXANS 24, COWBOYS 20.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: The Charlie Whitehurst Bowl! If Ryan Mathews, he of the Dreaded High Ankle Sprain, isn’t ready to go this week, the Bolts are in trouble. The Seahawks present some of the same challenges the Chiefs did two weeks ago- fast, physical defense, a couple of speedy offensive playmakers, and one of the most ruthless home fields in the league. Qwest is just a tough place to play, bottom line. (And, by the way, the 12th Man needs to be marketing itself in some way with “A Tribe Called Qwest.” Who do we talk to?) The Chargers are the better team, but this is still the NFL, and the difference isn’t a chasm. I smell upset.  SEAHAWKS 23, CHARGERS 21.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS AT KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: If this game were at the ‘Stick instead of Arrowhead, I’d be picking the Niners by three touchdowns. I know it’s a short week, but after dominating the Saints and losing anyway (sound familiar, Vikings fans?), they’re going to be bitter, and Patrick Willis and Frank Gore bitter is not something I’d want to deal with. What Kansas City does is what the Niners are built to stop. If ever a game screamed out for more Jamaal Charles, this is it (see what Reggie Bush did to Willis before he got hurt? Pay attention, Todd.), and if they don’t get their playmakers the ball in space constantly, they aren’t going to win. The offense hasn’t been running off sustained drives- they only scored one offensive touchdown against the Browns. It’s a soft 2-0, and it’s about to be exposed. NINERS 27, CHIEFS 13.

NEW YORK JETS AT MIAMI DOLPHINS: We’re going to have to start assigning a curse just like the Madden to the Hard Knocks participants. First they lay an egg opening night while losing the centerpiece of their defensive line, then Revis goes down while getting posterized by the Slouch, and now the Braylon Edwards extravaganza. To say they’re dealing with a lot of stuff is an understatement. Meanwhile, the Dolphins, who by the way have won this division much more recently than the Jets, have gone a quiet 2-0 after handling the Vikings. They’re playing solid defense, balanced offense, and have done just enough to win twice. I think they’re itching to prove they’re relevant in a tough division. DOLPHINS 17, JETS 14.

GREEN BAY PACKERS AT CHICAGO BEARS: Fantastic early season Monday Night Football matchup. Let me spare you the suspense: the Pack wins this one. But it might not be easy. The Bears’ offense found some interesting spurts of rhythm against the Cowboys, and Jay Cutler in rhythm is a beautiful thing. Still- they don’t block anyone in pass protection, and they’re going to have to throw, a LOT, to have any hope of pulling off what I would consider a substantial upset. Meanwhile, Clay Matthews has 6 sacks in 2 games and Kevin Shaeffer was the Bears’ left tackle a week ago. The phrase “max protect” cannot be uttered fast enough. But then what? Is Johnny Knox going to beat Charles Woodson (who probably views Cutler’s pick propensity as a sure thing)? And does Brian Urlacher still have that safety speed to run with Jermichael Finley? No. And no. PACKERS 31, Bears 17.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS AT DETROIT LIONS: Here’s a faith tester for Vikings fans: What percentage of “worried” would you say you are about this game? Whatever it is, I bet most of you aren’t answering “zero,” which is what you would’ve answered 9 short months ago. And rightly so, in both cases.  What’s clear is that the Vikings are nowhere near the same team they were a year ago without Sidney Rice, and without the seemingly instant chemistry that developed between Brett Favre and Percy Harvin in 2009. What is not at all clear, at least to me, is whether those are the only reasons the Vikings are playing so poorly, at least on offense. I’m deeply unimpressed by the O-line, despite the occasional gaping hole for Adrian Peterson. And Favre himself just doesn’t seem right, does he? It’s not just Rice being gone, and I don’t think it’s just missing training camp. It’s also having a brutally injured and surgically-repaired ankle that’s still healing. It’s also being 41 years old. Remember your dad’s 41st birthday? Riiiiiight. That. Meanwhile, the Lions have had their hearts broken two weeks in a row, and would no doubt love to deliver the kill shot to the Vikings’ season and Favre’s career. I don’t think they’re ready, but I won’t be surprised either way. (In other words, that sound you hear is the distant but distinct echo of a window slamming shut in Minnesota.)  VIKINGS 23, LIONS 17.

CLEVELAND BROWNS AT BALTIMORE RAVENS: As a Browns fan, I’m tempted to go with the trusty “let’s just move on” line here. The Ravens should roll all over them. That said, we haven’t seen a very cohesive Ravens offense yet, and I’ll go ahead and wait till they play it to make the leap. The Browns haven’t played great offensive football, but the fact of the matter is this: but for one bad throw in each game, they’re 2-0 right now. But they’ve been awful in the second half, totally uncreative on offense, and devoid of any semblance of a killer instinct. They’re not going into Baltimore and winning. As a sidenote: James Davis might see the ball this Sunday. I’m excited about that. So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice. RAVENS 23, BROWNS 10.

BUFFALO BILLS AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Man, it sucks to be the Bills right now. Last week at Lambeau, this week at Foxboro against a Patriots team that figures to be in the mood to run it up. Word of advice for Chan Gailey: you’re going to need to score in this one, sir. Please get it to CJ Spiller a few more times and prove you care about winning. Thanks. PATRIOTS A LOT, BILLS A LITTLE. (Fine. 34-10.)

ATLANTA FALCONS AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: I like the Falcons, but so far they’ve shown me nothing that leads me to believe they’re ready to challenge the Saints for division superiority. They just don’t have enough balance or weaponry on offense. The Saints, of course, have both of those things in spades. And they have an attacking, ball-hawking defense that just makes plays. They’ll struggle to maintain their usual dynamism without Reggie Bush, who aside from Drew Brees is the centerpiece of what they’re doing offensively down in the Big Easy. But they’re still a better team at home against a division foe. That’s a W. SAINTS 24, FALCONS 17.

TENNESSE TITANS AT NEW YORK GIANTS: Interesting matchup here, and one whose outcome will be determined by tempo (unless Keith Bulluck gives the Giants incredible notes). Whichever team can establish their ideal style of play will come out victorious. The Giants figure to come out throwing and try to put early points on the board, in hopes of minimizing the Chris Johnson-related damage. The Titans should, of course, feature a heavy dose of CJ2K, in hopes of minimizing the need for Vince Young to drop back. I like the Titans in a close one on the strength of a better D and CJ’s speed. TITANS 23, GIANTS 21.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS AT TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: This is another one I think merits watching more closely than perhaps the names of the participants might indicate. The way to beat the Steelers is through the air and with as much speed as possible (and get rid of it, Mr. Quarterback. Now.). The Bucs actually have that. Mike Williams is a legit NFL #1 right now, which is incredible for a rookie. Kellen Winslow is a tough cover. Sammie Stroughter and Michael Spurlock aren’t bad. Their run game will do nothing against the Steelers’ dominant front 7, so they’re going to have to chuck it. If they can find a couple of big plays, their D is good enough to keep them in it. They’re at home. And after all, Charlie Batch is playing. All that said, I’m taking the Steelers. That D is BACK.  STEELERS 17, BUCS 13.

CINCINNATI BENGALS AT CAROLINA PANTHERS: If I’m reading these two teams right (and I think I am), this is a beatdown. The Panthers are giving Marvin Lewis, Mike Zimmer and their strong Bengals’ D the full week to prepare for Jimmy Clausen’s first NFL start. Good luck with that, kid. Don’t be surprised if either Leon Hall or Jonathan Joseph gets himself a pick six this week. BENGALS 31, PANTHERS 17.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS AT ST. LOUIS RAMS: The Redskins have to feel like they let a big opportunity slip through their fingers last weekend when Houston came back from 17 down to get ‘em. That Washington D is no doubt prepared to take their frustrations out on one Mr. Bradford. And with how impressive McNabb has been putting up yards in the passing game, the Rams will have a hard time keeping up. The Rams need to plan on a steady diet of Steven Jackson to give themselves a chance to win it in the fourth quarter. If it’s close, I think Bradford can win you a game with a little protection. But not this week. REDSKINS 27, RAMS 17.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES AT JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: The Michael Vick Era begins. Of course, the Kevin Kolb Era began and lasted all of 10 pass attempts, so how seriously can we take this whole ‘era’ thing when it comes to Philadelphia quarterbacks at this point? Regardless, the Jags can’t stop them with Michael Vick or Kevin Kolb, so the Eagles are going to get themselves a W this weekend. Just give it to Shady and call the slants to DeSean and Jeremy and get out of the way. Mike will hit them a few times and make a couple plays with his legs and that will be plenty. The Jags are a mess, especially on offense and especially at quarterback. Is that “California Dreamin’” I hear on the jukebox? EAGLES 30, JAGS 20.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS AT DENVER BRONCOS: This could get high scoring. I liked what I saw from both of these teams on offense last week. It was as if the Colts remembered who they were, and the Broncos started discovering it. The appearance of rookie wideout Demaryius Thomas had a visible impact on the Broncos’ O. He stretched the field effectively for Eddie Royal, he got open, he caught a touchdown. Kyle Orton is efficient, so if you have weapons to whom he can distribute the ball, he’ll be a winning quarterback. Speaking of winning quarterbacks, the Colts have Peyton Manning, so they’ll win Sunday. (You can expect similarly brilliant analysis on the Colts every week. You’re welcome. ) COLTS 27, BRONCOS 20.

OAKLAND RAIDERS AT ARIZONA CARDINALS: Last, and quite possibly least, we have a contest between two teams trying new quarterbacks. As a Browns fan, I feel like I can tell both of these franchises that they need to be drafting quarterbacks early next year, because I saw the Derek Anderson and Bruce Gradkowski shows up close not all that long ago, and they were…well, they were just awful.  Frankly, I’m surprised the Raiders moved off of Jason Campbell so quickly, but I have to assume Tom Cable (or someone else) simply sees more likable qualities in Bruce Gradkowski at the moment. He does get rid of the ball, he has produced occasionally in limited action, and he’s well versed in the offense. It’s hard to argue too vigorously in Campbell’s favor. Meanwhile, Darren McFadden is making noise and looking to prove he is a feature back in the League, and if he can do ten more times what he did the first two games, I’ll be the first to describe him as such. I have no idea who wins this game. None. But I’m going with the Raiders by an eyelash.  RAIDERS 23, CARDINALS 17.

NFL WEEK 2: SECOND CHANCES

What a fun week to have the Sunday Ticket. I bounced around a lot in light of another putrid performance by my Cleveland Browns. A bunch of upstarts beat supposedly better teams, and a few others made their opponents nervous. After two weeks, I still feel like right now it’s the Packers and everybody else. You know the offense is going off almost every week, but that defense is ferocious. Meanwhile, the Cowboys and Vikings are staring at 11% statistical odds to make the playoffs but the Chiefs and Bucs are both 2-0. Just another week in the wacky world of NFL football. As always, feel free to look back at my predictions from last week to see how I did.

BENGALS 15, RAVENS 10: I picked the Ravens in this spot last week, but changed my pick to the Bengals at the last minute in my pick ‘em pool, so I’ll take partial credit here. In a time-honored Balitmore tradition, Ray Lewis was left steaming over the game being taken from the Ravens on a roughing the passer call, when all their O had to do was score two touchdowns. The Ravens’ offense is going to have to pick it up to challenge for a Lombardi, and just in time, here come the Cleveland Browns. Problem solved. The Bengals have to love all the winning they’ve done lately against the AFC North. That’s a quality victory against a tough team. They’ll take 15 and a W over Baltimore any time.

JETS 28, PATRIOTS 14: The Slouch got over and enjoyed a photo shoot on Revis Island, but the Jets were the aggressor and the better team from top to bottom on this Sunday. All the Mark Sanchez doubters have to explain that game away to me, because that looked like a pretty good quarterback in the making from here. And also, to those who mocked me this offseason when I told them Ladanian Tomlinson wasn’t done? I rest my case. Impressive win for the Jets. Can they repeat against a Dolphins team that looks like they feel disrespected? There’s gonna be some hittin’ in that game. Count on it.

The Patriots lost, but not before the Slouch got himself a poster.

DOLPHINS 14, VIKINGS 10: Well, Chilly- you gave Adrian the ball 25 times and he ran wild. Of course, you only scored one point more this week. Progress, I suppose. But I think Grandpa Favre really misses his youth, his ranch, and Sidney Rice. I think Jared Allen misses his mullet. I think Childress misses the point. And I think the Vikings miss 2009. With rumors of what can only be called a last-ditch panic move- an attempted acquisition of Vincent Jackson- the ship is coming apart, and fast. If a suddenly game Lions team comes into the dome and gets them this weekend, it’s OVAH.

PACKERS 34, BILLS 7. Sorry, Bills fans. On the upside, Andrew Luck is legit, and a better NFL prospect than your current Standford grad QB. Patience is a virtue. Except with CJ Spiller. He needs the ball. Now. And the Packers are now clearly the bulls-eyed team in the NFL. Clay Matthews got a head start on Green Bay’s second straight Defensive Player of the Year Award with his second straight 3-sack game to open 2010 (Charles Woodson won the award last year). Congratulations, Packers. You’re the best team out there. As my old boss used to say: Don’t F it up.

BEARS 27,  COWBOYS 20: Ok, Bears, you’ve earned your 1-1 record. The defense, to me, looked much more physical yesterday than they have in a long time. Cutler had a couple of “Jay Cutler in a rhythm is a coach’s wet dream” stretches (and a couple of “Jay Cutler isn’t always in a rhythm” ones, as well), and Matt Forte continued his re-emergence.  Meanwhile, the Cowboys look like a team cracking under the pressure of ridiculously high expectations. Rumors today that Jerry Jones reached out to Jon Gruden have the twitter world abuzz and Sickness headquarters in a panic. Ok, Tony. This is where great quarterbacks pull everyone together and right the ship. Show us what you got.

CHARGERS 38, JAGUARS 13. Ryan Mathews went down with an injury early, but the Chargers took advantage of a lesser team and put it away quickly. Side note: How is Antonio Gates always running around wide open? Defenses know to assign someone to him, right? The Chiefs tripled him last week…where were you, Jacksonville?  The Jags are physical but are going to be overmatched on a near-weekly basis. With labor strife looming, geographical uncertainty and an increasingly lame duck-looking coach, it’s going to be a long year for Jags fans.

STEELERS 19, TITANS 11: In what looks more like a high-scoring baseball game, the Steelers won a defensive battle and held Chris Johnson to a miniscule 34 yards rushing (though, he did have another length-of-the-field touchdown called back on a hold). They also managed to bring back bad Vince Young, though Dick Lebeau’s defenses tend to bring out the worst in everybody. I know Fisher was just trying to jump-start his team, but didn’t he learn anything from last year? VY’s your quarterback. Live with it.

This guy looks like the starter to me.

EAGLES 35, LIONS 32. Whoa. That Michael Vick guy looks like he can play some quarterback. But apparently he won’t, at least not as the starter in Philly, at least for now. Reid gave Kolb the instant vote of confidence and Vick played the willing teammate to a T this morning, and for that I’m giving him a ton of credit. That looks like a player who needs to be starting. Granted, it was against the Lions, and I understand all the reasons they’re going immediately back to Kolb. But it looks to me like that team is feeling Michael Vick right now. Regardless, he made a ton of money this week, and will start for someone if there’s football in 2011. The Lions are the new heartbreak kids. So close, so often. Sooner or later they’ll start winning some of these. In the meantime, Detroit fans will just have to sit back and enjoy the Jahvid Best Show. We here in the Pac 10 would like to welcome you all and ask you where you’ve been. That guy’s ridiculous, isn’t he? Don’t look at us like that. We tried to tell you.

TEXANS 30, REDSKINS 27. One of the games of the day, this one had a little bit of everything. The Skins got out to a nice lead, and the Texans, who should be the better team, battled back. McNabb and Schaub threw it all over the field for a combined 923 passing yards. To the dismay of many, Kubiak played field position in overtime and it paid off with a Neil Rackers field goal to win it in OT. In my estimation, this is a HUGE win for the Texans. They got it in almost opposite fashion to the one last week against the Colts. This time, they were down early and big, on the road, to a team that, at the very least, has a solid defense. They showed poise and perseverance, and are 2-0. They’re for real.

CHIEFS 16, BROWNS 14. The Mangini watch begins. With games against clearly superior opponents for the next two months, the Browns could easily be staring at 0-9. Seneca Wallace was throwing deep balls out of bounds all day, the O-Line looked mediocre, the defense was on the field all day, and one bad pick cost them the game. Where have I heard this before? Meanwhile, the Chiefs are 2-0 despite the criminal indifference shown to Jamaal Charles (more on that in tomorrow’s fantasy review). Derrick Johnson and Eric Berry were everywhere, and the running game helped them prevail. I’m sure Chiefs fans will take issue with this, but they didn’t win this game so much as the Browns lost it.

FALCONS 41, CARDINALS 7. That’s what you get when you choose Derek Anderson over whatever it would have cost to get Donovan McNabb. Congratulations, you lose.  The Falcons dominated from start to finish, and Jason Snelling went bananas while spelling an injured Michael Turner.

BUCCANEERS 20, PANTHERS 7: This one surprised me. I expected the Panthers to grind out a win on the strength of their running game. Obviously, that didn’t happen, and now Jimmy Clausen is the guy in Carolina. Really, can there be any looking back for them? If they win a bunch, maybe Fox keeps his job. If not, maybe he’s in Cleveland next year. The Bucs, meanwhile, have to be buoyed by a nice 2-0 start. Josh Freeman looks like the real deal, and I’m certain Mike Williams is exactly that. McCoy and Price make a big difference up front. They’re not a playoff team, but that’s a good division win.

COLTS 38, GIANTS 14. I’d like to thank the Giants for proving me 100% right. They have built a chuck-it-around, pass-first team whether they like it or not (and you can tell, Tom Coughlin doesn’t like it one bit). A week after the Colts were embarrassed on the ground by a Texans team known more for prolific passing, the Giants came out and barely tried to exploit the obvious weakness. Perhaps it’s because they know they no longer have the offensive line to push people around. Or maybe it’s because Brandon Jacobs is now better at the helmet shot put than hitting increasingly smaller holes. Or maybe it’s because their defense isn’t good enough to play ball control football anymore. Regardless, the Giants are what I thought they were. So are the Colts, and what the Colts are is damn lucky to have #18 behind center.

RAIDERS 16, RAMS 14. Jason Campbell got pulled for Bruce Gradkowski and Darren McFadden had his second straight big game as an NFL running back. If he’s going to play like that, the Raiders should never drop back again once Michael Bush gets back. The Rams just still aren’t there yet. It’s going to be awhile. I know it’s hard to think this way, but I’d be considering Herschel Walker-ing Steven Jackson right about now.

BRONCOS 31, SEAHAWKS 14. Seahawks fans have to be disappointed with that follow up. Now they’re left wondering who they really are. But Denver may be discovering their identity. Demaryius Thomas leaped off the screen to me. The rookie out of Georgia Tech is big, smooth, and looks to have developed some timing with Kyle Orton already. McDaniels seems to be dusting off Eddie Royal. Need to see it a few more times to believe it, though.

Almost time the Monday Night Football battle between the Saints and Niners. Can’t wait. The matchups I’m watching are Patrick Willis & Reggie Bush, the Niners rookie offensive linemen against the Saints front seven, and Alex Smith against Gregg Williams. Do we get “he might be getting it” Alex Smith, or “deer in the headlights” Alex Smith? Can’t wait to find out.

RETURN OF THE SLOUCH: NFL WEEK 2 PREVIEW & PICKS

Week 1 was full of games that surprised for their substance, if not their outcomes. Nobody was shocked the Saints took out the Vikings, but not too many were predicting a 14-9 snooze-fest. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t expect the defending AFC North champs would be down three touchdowns at half to the Patriots. That’s why I refuse to pick against a particular spread. I have a pretty good idea who the better team is (usually), but knowing how they’re going to win is another question entirely. Too many factors go into it to be plausibly predicted. I give you a score. You may, if you like, consider that a comment on whatever spread you use. And, as always, if you insist on using my observations as the sole basis for your gambling decisions, I would really prefer you just send the money to me. If it’s all the same to you.  Since you’ll be parting with it anyway.

Here’s how I see week 2 shaking out…

BALTIMORE RAVENS AT CINCINNATI BENGALS: It was just one game, right Bengals fans? And a tough one at that, going to New England to open the season. But here’s the thing: now you get the Ravens at home, a team you swept last year and will no doubt be looking to assert their physical dominance of the AFC North. And we just saw what a fired-up Ravens defense can do. Buckle up, Carson. They’re coming. The Bengals will no doubt attempt to spread out a suspect Ravens secondary. But the thing about spreading out a secondary is that you have to leave your quarterback less protected. Is that really a good idea against that crew? Better hit big on those hot reads. I like the Ravens in this one, but it won’t be easy. RAVENS 23, BENGALS 17.

The Elusive Slouch of Revis Island

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS AT NEW YORK JETS: This one will be on at Sickness HQ, you can count on it. Rex and crew got awfully mouthy this offseason, and the one that matters this week is what Darrelle Revis called Randy Moss: “Slouch.” WHOOOO. There’s going to be some smacking, some smack-talkin’, and I can guarantee you: some serious 9-routage. The Pats are going to test Revis’ football conditioning with some wind sprints and rookie Kyle Wilson’s mental toughness with a steady dose of Wes Welker and Julian Edelman. The Ravens got good production out of Todd Heap, and I expect Brady to regularly target his dueling rookie tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, particularly in the red zone. The Jets absolutely must turn loose of Mark Sanchez’s collar before they Brady Quinn him. Right now he’s a checkdown robot with no confidence, and you don’t beat these Patriots without scoring. Santonio can’t get here fast enough for this one. PATRIOTS 24, JETS 13.

MIAMI DOLPHINS AT MINNESOTA VIKINGS: I did not see one thing I liked about the Vikings in week 1. Check that- Adrian Peterson looked great but they didn’t give him the ball nearly enough, and lost as a result. The Dolphins got a workmanlike win against the Bills but will have to do everything better if they want to get out of the Metrodome with a victory. I think the Vikings will have enough in their home opener to take it, but won’t be at all surprised if Favre and company start 0-2.  VIKINGS 24, DOLPHINS 20.

BUFFALO BILLS AT GREEN BAY PACKERS: Sorry, Buffalo. You win the grand prize in 2010’s edition of “Who Wants To Get Rolled By The Eventual Super Bowl Champ In Their Home Opener.” As a parting gift, please enjoy this 40-burger with a side of Jermichael. PACKERS 42, BILLS 17.

CHICAGO BEARS AT DALLAS COWBOYS: The Bears are 0-1 in my mind. Completely unimpressed. Of course, I can say the same about the Cowboys. But I have much more faith that the latter will figure it out and be a pretty darn good football team. They’re clearly superior here, should be ready to destroy someone after a bad loss in Washington. The ‘Boys win it easily. COWBOYS 33, BEARS 13.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS AT SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: The Chargers started slow? No way. It never ceases to amaze me that Norv Turner continues to convince people to hire him as a head coach. They trip all over themselves for the first month of the season every year. Martyball went 14-2, lost to Brady & Belichick and got fired. Norv’s teams sleepwalk through September every year, cling to their division title by a thread and then get unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs by a team with less talent but better coaching. For this, he gets an extension. I’m dumbfounded. But I digress. The Chargers should have enough to dispense with the Jags. Marcedes Lewis ain’t scoring two TD’s again. CHARGERS 21, JAGUARS 13.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS AT TENNESSEE TITANS: This is the kind of game I’m used to picking the Steelers to win. But I am more impressed with the Titans’

This is happening again.

offense each time I see them. Chris Johnson is going for 2,000 again unless he’s hurt. You can mark that one. I’ve never seen anything like him. Mike Mayock said it best this week while admonishing himself for giving CJ a 2nd-round grade in the draft- “He was like that kid in 8th grade who was just faster than everyone else. But the thing is…he still is.” Mayock knows.  TITANS 20, STEELERS 14.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS AT SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: The Niners laid a Humpty-Dumpty-sized egg at Seattle week 1. Alex Smith was atrocious, the defense looked flat, and absolutely nothing went right. Iron Mike Singletary was so livid he called a team meeting as the team de-planed back home. I bet practice was not even a little bit fun this week. And there’s no rest for the weary with the defending Super Bowl Champs coming to town. The Saints did not look like the well-oiled machine of 2009 while struggling to beat Grandpa Favre and the Vikes. This will be a knock-down, drag-out, smash-you-in-the-mouth battle. I’m tempted to call a Monday Night upset. In fact, you know what…naaaaah.  SAINTS 24, NINERS 23.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS AT CLEVELAND BROWNS: Before this weekend’s Delhomme-induced debacle in Tampa, I was supremely confident the Browns would open up 2-0. Now I’m concerned it might be more like 0-9. If that game is indicative of the kind of gameday coaching we can expect, I will be more than happy to jump ship and start paddling for the SS GRUDES as I threatened to do months ago. I respect Mangini’s program-building, but on Sundays he’s underwhelming. And they play the games on Sundays for the most part, don’t they? Meanwhile, Kansas City fans must be ecstatic this week. They received an instant infusion of team speed and playmaking ability this offseason, and as evidenced by Monday night’s win against the Bolts, you can win a lot of games on two or three big plays. And you can bet they’ll have Jerome Harrison in their crosshairs after he went for 286 on them in December. Don’t worry, KC- the Manguin will probably give him 9 touches. CHIEFS 20, BROWNS 13.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES AT DETROIT LIONS: That was an ugly game for the Eagles, but they can take solace from the way the offense improved once Vick got settled. They should be able to handle a weaker Lions team that had their hearts ripped out on a technicality last week. It’s the right call under the rule, but I don’t have to like it. I like where the Lions are going, but they’re overmatched in this one.  EAGLES 27, LIONS 17.

HOUSTON TEXANS AT WASHINGTON REDSKINS: The Houston Texans have my full attention, and I’m feeling VERY good about my prediction that they will make the playoffs. I’m going to give it a few weeks, but they looked like the best team in the AFC South week 1, and that counts for something. So does scoring more than thirty points while Matt Schaub hands off all day. If they can go into DC and get a win against the ‘Skins, I’ll duly impressed. No small task- the Redskins’ defense in particular looked ready to ball. They’ve designed it in a way that recognizes the crazy-athletic playmaking ability of LaRon Landry and turned Brian Orakpo completely loose. And all that stuff about how he can’t play the 3-4 I heard when he came out of Texas was obviously nonsense. Should be a fun game, a battle of divergent styles. I like the Texans’ firepower over the Redskins’ ball control game. TEXANS 24, REDSKINS 17.

ARIZONA CARDINALS AT ATLANTA FALCONS: The Falcons are going to have to be more balanced than that if they expect to go anywhere. 23 targets to Roddy White, while much appreciated in these parts because he starts on my fantasy squad, is not the way to win in the NFL. Matt Ryan is going to have to figure out how to spread it out better in the pass game, and the coaching staff needs to keep Michael Turner as the centerpiece of the offense…why do I sense they’re trying to force it with Matty Ice? I like the kid, but he doesn’t have the weapons to be chucking it around. That’s not the team Mike Smith and Thomas Dmitroff built. The Cards escaped St. Louis with a win. And I do mean ‘escaped’. They won’t be so lucky in the Dirty Birdhouse. FALCONS 24, CARDINALS 10.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS AT CAROLINA PANTHERS: This looks like one of those games I skip while browsing the Sunday Ticket. If it pops up on the Red Zone Channel, so be it. I assume the Panthers will not make the mistake the Browns made in week one and stop running the ball. Carolina loves to pound the rock and Tampa was the league’s worst run defense in 2009. Should be a competitive, low-scoring NFC South special. PANTHERS 17, BUCS 13.

NEW YORK GIANTS AT INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: Manning Bowl II promises to be a high-scoring affair. The strength of both offenses (and perhaps the only choice the Colts have) is the spread-out passing game. Eli and Hakeem Nicks hooked up for three touchdowns in a week 1 victory over Carolina, while Peyton and the Colts lost a bad one to division upstart Houston. While I have to be worried about that Colts’ defense, I like big brother to get the best of little brother this time around. The Colts are especially tough at home, and going against his kin while coming off a loss is a bad time to bet against #18. COLTS 31, GIANTS 24.

ST. LOUIS RAMS AT OAKLAND RAIDERS: We’re going to see that vastly improved Raider offense everyone’s been talking about this weekend. Right?  I think so, but I’m not betting anything important on it.  I also think we’ll see Sam Bradford’s ability to absorb pressure tested. Al likes his boys to get after opposing QB’s, and the Black Hole seems as good a place as any to unleash hell on a rookie. The Raiders, if they’re for real, need to come out and set the tone early in this one. No excuses. RAIDERS 27, RAMS 13.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS AT DENVER BRONCOS: Maybe I’m crazy, but this is a really interesting game to me. The Seahawks came out like gangbusters in week 1, with the Pete Carroll juice flowing through the ‘Hawks D as they simply handled the Niners. The Broncos seem to be struggling to establish an identity. McDaniels is trying to establish a Patriots-like operation, but there’s only one Hoodie, and trading for Laurence Maroney isn’t going to change that. Kyle Orton is fine, but he’s not inspiring anyone to greatness. Winning at Mile High is always a tough proposition, just like winning in Seattle. The Broncos will protect their home turf in a physical battle. BRONCOS 21, SEAHAWKS 20.

NFL WEEK 1: FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The first Sunday of the NFL season is one of the greatest days of the year in terms of anticipation. Often, though, teams are still feeling their way around out there during the first week. Nobody has tape on anybody, some guys aren’t quite in game shape for one reason or another, and first-game jitters seem to generally hamper execution. That was certainly the case this weekend as several highly-anticipated matchups produced somewhat puzzling results. But it’s still NFL football, and it remains the best game around. Let’s take a spin around the league. Feel free to refer back to my weekly predictions for mockery fodder.

SAINTS 14, VIKINGS 9: There’s not one of you who isn’t thinking it: Brett Favre looked old. Or maybe just tired. Or was it worse- old and tired? Either that, or the

Favre looked like he'd rather be on his keester in Hattiesburg.

defending World Champs are a little tougher to just show up and defeat than the Browns and Lions of the world, against whom the Vikings opened last year. Either way, Sidney Rice’s absence is a big problem, Percy Harvin didn’t look right, and Brad Childress is apparently dead set on pushing the stupidity envelope (more on this in tomorrow’s Fantasy Sickness roundup. LOTS more.). The Saints started off hot, then fizzled out, but managed to pound out a victory the old fashioned way- ground game and defense (what do you know? It still works).

BUCS 17, BROWNS 14: Well, I was right for almost the entire first half. The Browns were rolling the Bucs, and going in for what would’ve been a dagger third touchdown and a 21-3 halftime lead. Then Jake Delhomme threw at Ronde Barber from his back and Peyton Hillis did his Adrian Peterson 2009 NFC Title Game impression, and the Bucs had themselves a nice little opening day victory. Sidenote: the Bucs got themselves a good one in Mike Williams.

DOLPHINS 15, BILLS 10: Not sure what to make of any of this game. Let’s just chalk it up to weird first week stuff and just move on.

PATRIOTS 38, BENGALS 24: If your goal is to beat the New England Patriots, you might want to consider not going down by four touchdowns. Just a thought. Here’s another: Wes Welker is incredible. Two touchdowns coming back from that knee injury in almost no time. Here’s to modern medicine, eh Pats fans?

TEXANS 34, COLTS 24: Well, well, well! Look who grew a little chest hair this offseason. The Texans scored 34 points and Matt Schaub barely eclipsed 100 yards in the air. Peyton threw for all kinds of yards, but Houston was in control most of the game. I’m duly impressed. The BoneCrusher: gridiron prophet.

JAGUARS 24, BRONCOS 17: Went almost exactly as I thought it would. Nothing particularly impressive from either team, Jags did just enough to win on a couple of TD catches by Long Beach Poly product and former Bruin Marcedes Lewis.

STEELERS 15, FALCONS 9: The Pittsburgh Steelers, ladies and gentlemen. They just know how to win.

TITANS 38, RAIDERS 13: Chris Johnson certainly looks like a guy who might be able to do it again, doesn’t he? Has he even used full speed yet? Meanwhile, the Raiders couldn’t protect Jason Campbell and he couldn’t read the blitz. Maybe it’s the jersey?

GIANTS 31, PANTHERS 18: Hey, remember when I told you that the Giants were now a passing team behind Eli Manning no matter what they said about a rededication to the running game?  I need to start charging for this stuff.

BEARS 19, LIONS 14: After further review, that’s a freaking touchdown. I know it’s not, under the present iteration of the rule. And yes, he should’ve cradled it. But that rule needs to change. Here’s why: If a running back carelessly reaches a ball over the goal line and the ground knocks it out, it’s not a fumble. In fact, it’s a touchdown. But, if a receiver catches the ball, lands on two feet (separately), effectively sits down on his butt in the end zone, puts the ball on the ground and lets go, it’s an incomplete pass. Inconsistency, thy name is the NFL rule book.

Megatron caught this, took two steps, sat down, and put the ball down. Incomplete.

CARDINALS 17, RAMS 13: The Rams apparently intend to get their money’s worth out of Sam Bradford one way or another, as the rookie dropped back to throw 55 times in his debut. Hey, no time like the present, right Spags? The Cardinals did just enough to win, but if you’re the Cardinals and you struggle to beat the Rams after where you’ve been recently, you’ve got to be gripping the wheel a little more tightly this morning. Hang on to those hats and glasses, Cards fans. Mr. Anderson’s Wild Ride can get bumpy.

PACKERS 27, EAGLES 20: Another expected shootout that somewhat disappointed me. The Packers offense never looked as smooth and in sync as it did all preseason, and Ryan Grant went down with an ugly injury. But the Packers have to be rejoicing that they’re not the Eagles. Kolb looked overmatched before going down with a concussion. They lost valuable fullback Leonard Weaver to a leg injury that came with a replay of Theismanesque ugliness. They lost their starting center indefinitely. Their starting middle backer, Stewart Bradley, also concussed. Horrible Sunday for the Eagles, and it may get worse, because the bright spot was Michael Vick’s ability to move the team. You know what that means in the city of the patient sports fan.

SEAHAWKS 31, 49ERS 6: Pete Carroll wins his debut in go-away style in front of a 12th Man that couldn’t get enough of the attack. Very impressed, Seattle. On the other hand, Alex Smith looked just awful. He couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn yesterday. It’s week 1, so I’m not yet moving my needle on any of these teams, but the Niners and Hawks gave me plenty of reasons to revisit my preseason impressions of them.

REDSKINS 13, COWBOYS 7: Garrett, Romo and Tashard all get blamed for a horrible CHOICE at the end of the first half that allowed DeAngelo Hall (of all people) to take a football right out of their hands and to the house for the game-winning touchdown. Just an awful job all the way around by the cowboys. On the other hand, Dez Bryant is going to be awesome. So they’ve got that going for them. Which is nice. I was impressed with the ‘Skins progression in the 3-4. Brian Orakpo is a monster and they’ve finally figured out that LaRon Landry is their playmaker. But, like I wrote last week, I’m not surprised the Cowboys started slow.

Only a few hours until opening weekend concludes with a brilliant doubleheader- the Ravens and Jets in Hitfest 2010, and an AFC West showdown between the Chiefs and Chargers. Good times. Enjoy, everybody, and I’ll catch you back here tomorrow.

NFL SICKNESS: Week 1 Preview & Picks

Until recently, I hadn’t considered the possibility that anyone would be interested enough in my weekly NFL picks that the timing of their release, or the format in which they are presented, would matter. Well, color me surprised. Evidently they matter quite a bit, as some of you are apparently willing to forego your own intellect in favor of mine when it comes to making your weekly office pool picks. Even some of you whom I personally know to be knowledgeable football fans.

I’m flattered, but also must caution as to the advisability of making your choices on my observations. To say such advisability is limited is to say that Brett Favre looked old and tired this past Thursday night. Particularly where a point spread is involved. As such, I’m going to give you a predicted score for each game, and you may take that as you will (like, for example, a comment on whatever spread you choose to observe).

Those who follow me on Twitter (@FtblSickness) can attest that I projected a Saints win on Thursday night, but that the 14-9 score was a far cry from the 34-24 final I predicted. A fine example of what I mean when I say “I really don’t think you should gamble any money based on what I say about football. Or anything else.” Fair enough?  Excellent.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: My thought was that the home field advantage here would be enough to power the Saints to the victory. I also thought the defenses would be a step slow. So much for that.

CLEVELAND BROWNS AT TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Most of what I read is that these are two teams that were bad last year and will therefore be bad this year and that the home team will win a battle of two bad teams in a sloppy game. Thanks for the bang-up analysis there, geniuses. The Browns are going to roll the Bucs, I don’t care where they play. The Bucs were 32nd in the NFL in rushing defense in 2009, and the Browns’ single biggest strength is their running game. I like Gerald McCoy and Brian Price a lot, but if you have Jerome Harrison in your fantasy league, start him. BROWNS 31, Bucs 17.


MIAMI DOLPHINS AT BUFFALO BILLS: I’m having a hard time imagining the game I’ll pick the Bills to win. I think they’ll be competitive most weeks, and I’m sure they’ll get a few. But I’ll be wrong those weeks. I like what Miami brings to the table generally, and as long as Ronnie Brown is healthy, they’re a lot to deal with for anybody. DOLPHINS 24, Bills 20.

CINCINNATI BENGALS AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: This will be one to see. Strictly on talent, top to bottom, I think the Bengals are the better team.  Cincinnati’s defense is clearly stronger than the Pats’ inexperience-riddled unit. But the dropoff from Tom Brady and his weapons to Carson Palmer and his is significant.  Something’s got to give. I’m giving the edge to the Hoodie, #12, and a noisy Patriots crowd.  PATRIOTS 31, Bengals 27.

INDIANAPOLIS AT HOUSTON: Houston gets an early crack on their home field to take down the South division bully Indianapolis Colts.

The BoneCrusher predicts a Texans victory over the Colts. I, myself, do not.

The Colts and Texans both boast high-powered offensive attacks and improved defenses. Bill Polian has quietly built a physical defense that might prove to be the best of the Peyton Manning Era. If so, that only leaves one conclusion about what the Colts are doing this year. Sorry, Houston- keep your eye on that Wild Card. You’re gonna need it. COLTS 37, Texans 28.

DENVER BRONCOS AT JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Clearly, this game can only be known as one thing: The TEBOWL! Jacksonville was among the most rumored Timmy suitors before the Broncos snatched him up, and his presence helped sell tickets to week 1 in Gator Country (and Broncos jerseys all over the place). But his impact on the field will likely be minimal. There, you’ll see David Garrard do just enough to compliment Maurice Jones-Drew’s powerful running to send Tebow’s Broncos home a loser. JAGUARS 20, Broncos 17.

ATLANTA FALCONS AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Jamie Dukes picked the Steelers, at home, over the Atlanta Falcons as his upset special of the week. Go ahead and let that roll around in your head for a moment. Dennis Dixon or not, that’s one of two things, and maybe both: (a) insulting; and (b) a sign of the times. People are worried about the Steelers. It’s a concern I share, but not at home against a team that plays ball control (read: Steelers) football. Steelers win a dogfight at home. STEELERS 24, Falcons 21.

OAKLAND RAIDERS AT TENNESSEE TITANS: Here’s another week 1 game that I think has a ton of significance in the eventual playoff picture. The Raiders and Titans should both challenge for playoff spots, and this game could be the difference between getting in and not. My confidence in the Raiders, however, is heavily dependant upon Michael Bush, and he appears limited or out for this clash. VY and CJ will get it done in front of the home crowd. TITANS 27, Raiders 23.

CAROLINA PANTHERS AT NEW YORK GIANTS: I see these teams as similar in caliber if not style.  I keep reading how the Giants might surprise people and be a Super Bowl team. Well, if that happens I will certainly be among the surprised. But they’re not going to be a fun game for anyone. Same goes for the Panthers- you’re going to have to buckle the chinstrap and play the full sixty to beat them. This one goes to the hometown Giants as they open the new stadium. GIANTS 24, PANTHERS 21.

DETROIT LIONS AT CHICAGO BEARS: I’m not buying the Bears. I like almost nothing about how they’re put together. I believe in Martz and I think highly of several of their players- Lance Briggs, most notably. But I don’t see a team with discipline, cohesiveness or consistency. In Detroit, I see a team building all of those things, quickly. They’re not yet ready to play with the big boys, but they’re going to beat some teams you don’t think they’re going to beat as we enter the season. The Lions stun the Midway crowd on a Matthew Stafford-led touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. LIONS 28, Bears 23.

ARIZONA CARDINALS AT ST. LOUIS RAMS: Another one that tempted me. The Rams are a different offense with Sam Bradford at the helm. But he’s still a rookie and it’s not going to look that easy once the regular season gets going. That Rams offensive line is going to get eaten alive by a strong Cardinals front. I don’t think they have enough options for him to manage his way around that. Lots of dump-offs to Steven Jackson. The Cardinals will go to the run early and often as they establish a new identity without Kurt Warner. If Beanie isn’t ready to go, those runs will be a mix of handoffs and dump-offs to the vastly underrated Tim Hightower, with plenty of Fitz mixed in. CARDINALS 31, Rams 20.

GREEN BAY PACKERS AT PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: This game will be on one of the dual 42’s at Sickness Headquarters. Hopefully, unlike Thursday’s opener, this one lives up to the promise of a high-scoring, high flying barnburner. Everywhere you look, weapons. It makes no difference which green is on the field- there are dudes who make touchdowns their business. I need a heavy dose of Jermichael Finley and Desean Jackson to make up for Brad Childress’ poor playcalling on Thursday. Help me out, fellas. PACKERS 35, Eagles 24.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: The Seahawks haven’t lost a home opener in something like 100 years.  Welcome to year 101, ‘Hawks fans. It’s gonna be a long one. Starting with week 1. The Niners are physical and driven. Coach Singletary will want to establish a physical tone for his division rivals right away. Matt Hasslebeck will be lucky to finish this one. NINERS 30, Seahawks 17.

DALLAS COWBOYS AT WASHINGTON REDSKINS: One of the all-time great rivalries leads off the Sunday Night Football menu. The Cowboys are the far better team, but don’t be surprised if this is a game all the way to the last whistle.  I just haven’t liked the rhythm of the Cowboys’ offense, and I think we might be in for sort of a slopfest with the Redskins still developing an identity. COWBOYS 23, Redskins 17.

...and Ray has a message for him.

Rex has been striking this pose rather often...

BALTIIMORE RAVENS AT NEW YORK JETS: THWACK! BAP! SHMACK! POW! The only way this matchup could be tastier is if it were the finale, rather than the opener of the Monday Night Football season-opening doubleheader. (One of the better NFL traditions of recent years).  Expect nothing less than constant wood-laying and hat-bringing of the highest order. The Jets have been talking an awful lot, and Ray Lews is not the guy you want to cheese off right before he plays you in a season opener. I think the Ravens’ defense has a chip on its shoulder in this one. Rex clearly believes he was the reason they were so great. A lot of us think the primary reason is Mr. Lewis. And Mr. Lewis and company have something for Mark Sanchez this week, and my guess is it will come most frequently off of left guard. RAVENS 27, Jets 20.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS AT KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: The Chargers start slow under Norv Turner on a seemingly annual basis. Arrowhead is a tough place to play and the Kansas City faithful will be hyped for the Monday Night finale. The Chiefs have a bunch of weapons and new talent on both sides of the ball, and the Chargers have mostly just lost guys on both sides. This will be more competitive than their reputations of recent years would suggest. Tamba Hali needs to test Brandyn Dombrowski early and often. If he doesn’t hold up, the Chargers are in trouble. But I’m taking them to win on a big debut game from Ryan Mathews.  CHARGERS 34, Chiefs 27.

AFC NORTH DIVISION PREVIEW

Home to some of the most deep-seated intra-divisional hatred in the NFL, the AFC North is also one of the deepest at the moment. The Steelers and Ravens have long been on everyone’s radar, but last year the Bengals came out of nowhere for a 6-0 mark and a division title. The Browns also beat the Steelers IN Pittsburgh, so it may be time to start packing up your dual giraffes and llamas and heading for the Arc. Just in case, though, here’s what to expect (other than an epochal deluge) in 2010, with our Editor-In-Chief and lifelong Browns fan Ryan Burns giving us his observations on his squad’s division foes with the View From Dawg Pound West.

1. BALTIMORE RAVENS

Great Expectations. The Baltimore Ravens are among the most frequently-mentioned Super Bowl contenders in the NFL, and the hype is reasonable. They’re loaded. Ray Rice is one of the best young backs in the league, Joe Flacco is coming into his own and Ozzie Newsome went out and got Anquan Boldin and TJ Houshmanzadeh to dilute the attention defenses can pay to any one weapon. This is a team that should have something to say about who gets a trip to Dallas in February.

Holding down the fort. The biggest question is the defensive secondary, where stud defender Ed Reed will miss the first six games with a neck injury. They’re not deep, and any additional losses could be a problem. In a strong division and deep conference, a slow start is a big problem. We suspect they’ll figure it out.

The man, the myth, the legend. But here’s the thing- they’ve still got Ray Lewis, and he still has the rare ability to raise the level of play of everyone around him. We keep hearing that the Ravens’ defense is getting old, and maybe if you focus on the “age” line under Ed and Ray’s profile, they’re right. But if you focus on the play on the field? They were the number three defense in the NFL. In their day, they would’ve been number 1. What a bunch of has-been’s, eh?

THE VIEW FROM DAWG POUND WEST: These guys are scary. I do think the absence of Ed Reed is a loss they can’t entirely cover, but other than that…yikes. I’m fully convinced by both Flacco and Rice. Haloti Ngata should be a Brown, but he’s tormenting them instead. Ray Lewis is one of the top three players at any position of his generation, and he’s still doing it at a Hall of Fame level at MY age, which I assure you is a feat. I will be surprised if they don’t take the division.

2. CINCINNATI BENGALS

The Great Cincinnati Chemistry Experiment. Obvious storyline alert: The Bengals’ roster is long on talent and infamy. After sweeping through the division as 2009 AFC North Champions, the Bengals have no doubt taken note that everyone and their mother is picking the Baltimore Ravens to win the division (and in many cases, the Super Bowl) in 2010. This team can pound the rock and play defense with anybody, and while many seem concerned about T.O. and OchoCinco’s ability to co-exist, we’re not among them. They’re two vets who have been productive for their entire careers, they’ll get it done here.  The Bengals also added two rookies to watch in tight end Jermaine Gresham and wide receiver Jordan Shipley. Both should become trusted security blankets for Carson Palmer, whose quiver is now thoroughly stocked with deadly arrows. Speaking of which…

What more do you need? They swept through the division only to be unceremoniously dumped on their collective keester at home by Rex’s Jets. The story has always been that there wasn’t enough around him to succeed consistently. No longer can that case be made with any seriousness. It’s a tough road to hoe in the North, but Palmer should have everything he needs on offense, and an outstanding defense to get him the ball back. Time to make a run at it.

Batman & Robin, Shrek & Donkey, Ace & Gary. Take your pick of complimentary or derisive nicknames, but either way, you know you’re watching. And that’s their thing.

THE VIEW FROM DAWG POUND WEST: These guys are better than most are giving them credit for. Great run game, a gaggle of receiving weapons, and a strong defense lead by one of the top corner duos in the league in Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall. Strangely, my biggest question is Carson Palmer. He has never seemed the same to me since Kemo rolled him up. I think the additions to the Ravens just make them a shade stronger.

3. PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Stability test in Pittsburgh. The going assumption in league circles seems to be that the Steelers’ struggles in the second half of 2009 were a fluke brought about be a rash of injuries (most notably to the “Safety Savant,” Troy Polamalu). I think the problem runs deeper, and 2010 could be a test to an organization that has been a model of stability for decades. With the return of Polamalu and underrated big man Aaron Smith, the defense should be up to its normal havoc. The concern lies on the other side of the ball. Big Ben is an elite quarterback and has proven he can lead his team to a championship, but how his team reacts to him after yet another offseason fiasco remains to be seen (particularly if the electric Dennis Dixon plays well in his absence).

O-Line, Product of Switzerland. More to the point, the man took 50 sacks last year, and the Steelers were unable to ground it out the way they usually do, and lost a bunch of games as a result. First rounder Maurkice Pouncey is a nice addition to the interior, but the loss of Willie Colon and the attempted reclamation of Flozell Adams do not inspire confidence that things will improve. Mike Wallace is solid, but is he replacing former Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes? We doubt it. Look, they’re a better than .500 team.  But how much better we think is subject to the eye of the beholder.

THE VIEW FROM DAWG POUND WEST: I damn near picked the Steelers to finish last in the division, and only their strong defense with the return of Smith and Polamalu (and my lack of genuine faith in the Browns) kept me from doing so. It’s not rivalry hate, I assure you. I respect their program immensely. But I think they will struggle to adhere to it with an offensive line that, in my view, is among the league’s weakest, while playing in a division where that particular insufficiency is a deadly one. I think Ben’s absence hurts them, especially if Dennis Dixon, whom I think is fantastic and a defininte NFL starter, plays well.  I don’t think Mike Wallace is Santonio Holmes, and I think Hines Ward has to be feeling the miles. In short, I just don’t think it’s their year.

4. CLEVELAND BROWNS

What do you get when you cross a Walrus with a Manguin? They’re about to find out in Cleveland, where oft-maligned owner Randy Lerner brought in Mike Holmgren to run the Big Show. Most assumed Mangini would be an instant casualty, but Holmgren kept him on after the Browns closed 2009 with a four-game winning streak. Most also assumed that Holmgren’s presence meant an overhaul of the offense to the “West Coast” system (whatever that means anymore).  So far, though, it looks like Mangini gets to do “coach stuff” his way. The biggest change Holmgren made was to bring in Tom Heckert as the new GM, rightfully relieving Mangini of personnel and administrative duties.

Filling non-existent shoes. The second biggest was to rid the team of Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn, bringing in veteran castoff Jake Delhomme and one of his pet projects from Seattle, Seneca Wallace, to keep the seat warm for third-round pick Colt McCoy (or a quarterback to be drafted later). They finished 8th in rushing and sacks last year. It’s a good bet you’ll see Mangini trying to play to those strengths again. They probably finish last again in a strong division, but CLE is no longer a circle W.

THE VIEW FROM DAWG POUND WEST: I see a team on the rise. I really do. But then, I’ve seen that before far more frequently than the Browns have delivered on it. Can’t help it- sometimes I see the world through brown-and-orange-colored lenses. My arguments? They ran the ball and sacked the quarterback more effectively than all but 7 teams in the NFL last year. Mangini’s teams play tough football, and he’s developed winning rosters in limited time. Jake Delhomme, however mediocre he may be, is infinitely better than what I have often referred to as the Great Cleveland Quarterback Crapocopia of 2009. I expect Jerome Harrison and Peyton Hillis to be featured a bit like Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott back in the day. I’m most curious, however, to see what Rob Ryan does with a group that showed promise at the end of 2009 after the addition, most notably, of waiver steal Matt Roth. The new additions in the secondary should improve the pass rush, and TJ Ward will make the middle no-man’s land. They’re not there yet, but things are looking up.


FIRST IMPRESSIONS

I was having an internal debate with myself this weekend about what single entity, individual or phenomenon was most responsible for my particular case of the Sickness. The satellite dish is one- it allowed me, after years of dreaming of such a magical world, to watch my Browns on a weekly basis. When it became possible to move the sports bar into my living room with the Sunday Ticket, it was a life changer. Fantasy football certainly warrants a mention, because it is partially responsible for my following the whole league and not just the Browns. Ultimately, though, the answer is obvious: the cause of my Sickness is the game itself. I love to watch it, talk about it, study it. As a result, I am compelled to do things like watch all 15 games in week 1 of the preseason and report to you, my loyal reader(s?), my entirely non-scientific first impressions of the week that was in the NATIONAL…FOOTBALL LEAGUE.

ARIZONA CARDINALS 19, HOUSTON TEXANS 16: I don’t think the Cards can simply absorb all those off-season losses without some turbulence. Not since the days of Moses have we seen such a mass exodus from a desert. Putting the new puzzle together takes time, and I suspect the ride will be bumpy in 2010. Daryl Washington looks like a player, though. Houston’s 2nd round pick Ben Tate, thought to be in the mix for starting reps at running back, busted an ankle and is D-U-N for the year.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 25, CHICAGO BEARS 10: Rookie RB Ryan Mathews was impressive for the Bolts. I try not to buy into things too much in the preseason, but I’m close to withdrawing any doubts on this guy. The Bears didn’t exactly look like a high octane experiment from Martz Laboratories, but there were hints. At WR, Johnny Knox and Devin Aromashodu are more convincing threats than Devin Hester.

Ryan Mathews looks like the real deal.

NEW YORK GIANTS 31, NEW YORK JETS 16: The pre-game and in-game commentators all alluded to it, and Ahmad Bradshaw and friends drove it home: Brandon Jacobs is done.  Those big bruisers simply have short shelf lives, and the other guys are just better at this point. But more importantly, Eli and the receivers are the only chance this team has to win enough games to matter in 2010.  The Jets disappointed me a bit, although LaDanian Tomlinson looks mildly rejuvenated. He’s not what he once was, but he’s still capable of making plays. They need to get Revis figured out, and I’m starting to think Hard Knocks was a bad idea. On the other hand, good Braylon showed up and looked like the star he should always have been. If he ever attains consistency, he’s a monster.

CINCINNATI BENGALS 33, DENVER BRONCOS 24: The Bengals are legit. They have an outstanding defense and should score plenty. Cedric Benson is a bona fide number 1 back, Bernard Scott probably could be, and they’re loaded at receiver. Why am I having so much trouble buying them? As for the Broncos, the long-awaited Tebut finally happened, and Timmy didn’t disappoint. Made a couple of really nice throws down the field (one of which his receiver Braylon’d), took a big sack, ran it in and injured a linebacker on a meaningless, game-ending touchdown. What can I say? The kid’s got pizzazz.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 37, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 17: Peyton Manning and the Colts will be just fine. Unless the Colts lose Peyton Manning. Then they’re screwed. Curtis Painter is a mess, and if Tom Brandstater doesn’t beat him for the No. 2 job I’ll be stunned. The Niners looked like a team that feels they have something to prove, and whose coach does not tolerate a lack of intensity at any time, and certainly not during a football game, pre-season or not. Have I mentioned that I love Mike Singletary?

CLEVELAND BROWNS 27, GREEN BAY PACKERS 24: The Browns are a lot better for having jettisoned the Derek Anderson/Brady Quinn debacle and plugged in the crafty vet. Even if that crafty vet is Jake Delhomme. But they still don’t look like they can cover anybody. Aaron Rodgers looked in mid-season form, dropping a 12/13 night on the Browns’ first-teamers. Also, I have never been more right about anything than I am about to be about Jermichael Finley. In a word, MONSTER.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 27, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 24: Who Dat Nation need not worry; the boys can be forgiven a little rust and shakiness coming off what is no doubt one of the biggest Super Bowl hangovers in history. But they’d better get it in order, because they weren’t without some good fortune in getting there last year. In New England, Julian Edelman looks like much more than Wes Welker’s understudy to me.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 28, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 27: The Jags have a potential issue at QB if Luke McCown continues to vastly outplay David Garrard, but I’ve seen enough of Luke McCown over the years to be highly skeptical. The Jags just don’t look explosive on offense or overly physical on defense to me, and that’s what I call a bad combination. Philly looks like they’re going to be just fine with Kevin Kolb at the helm, but that secondary…yikes. No depth at DB. Better hope they stay healthy and Kolb lights it up.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS 42, BUFFALO BILLS 17: DMac5 to Chris Cooley and Fred Davis is going to happen a LOT this year. They have nothing outside. And I’m still semi-baffled as to why they wanted to shift to the 3-4 given how good the defense was in 2009. Brian Orakpo does not need to be in coverage.  They look a step slower as a defense, and I assume this is the adjustment period. Still, why fix what isn’t broken? Speaking of which, the Bills have as much to fix as any team in the NFL, and losing Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch to injury in this one won’t help them get better. Good luck, yet-to-be-determined-and-soon-to-be-horizontal-a-lot quarterback guy.

OAKLAND RAIDERS 17, DALLAS COWBOYS 9: Hard to get a read on this one as both teams were missing several key guys. But the Raiders clearly benefit from the Jason Campbell upgrade. Roy Williams looked like the only guy completely out of sync with Tony Romo. Princess Roy’s days with the first unit are numbered. That’s Dez’s job he’s keeping warm.  Remember when Jerry Jones gave up a 1, 3, 6, and 7 for Roy Williams to replace T.O.? Yikes.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS 23, DETROIT LIONS 7: I’d like to thank Dennis Dixon and Jahvid Best for making me look smart. Dixon needs to be under center come week 1, and needs to be part of the offense even when the Sausage King of Pittsburgh returns. Welcome to the new NFL. As optimistic as I am about the Lions rebuilding process (and I think they’ve done just about everything right in this new permutation), it’s clear that they’re not there yet. But Jahvid Best is already there, and he got there really fast. Like he does everything.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS 28, ST. LOUIS RAMS 7: The entire St. Louis Rams organization needs to commit itself to one purpose: making sure Sam Bradford endures as few performances by his offensive line as possible like the one they had this weekend. If it goes like that, Bradford will be Tim Couch before the year is out. The Vikings looked like they’d be fine without #4, but they won’t have to be. And it was the Rams.

MIAMI DOLPHINS 10, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 7: Rained like crazy, so I’m tossing most of my observations. But Chad Henne looked really uncomfortable just handling the ball, and it’s not as if it doesn’t rain in Miami, now, is it?  Ronnie Brown looks great, and the Dolphins have some stud newcomers on D in Koa Misi and Jared Odrick.  Josh Freeman looked good for the Bucs, and much-hyped rookie WR Mike Williams out of Syracuse made a tasty one-handed grab down the right sideline.  But they’re still a year or two away from being truly competitive.

ATLANTA FALCONS 20, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 10: The development of the Chiefs’ offense is going to be fascinating, but it is a work in progress. Matt Cassel didn’t look comfortable. But Dexter McCluster did, and I can’t wait to see how Coaches Haley and Weis use him. The defense, on the other hand, looks like they’re coming around, and Eric Berry is a star. Right now.  Atlanta looked a bit uneasy to me, but Michael Turner looks ready to go. Even caught a pass out of the backfield, which sent every fantasy person on twitter into a frenzy. Good times.

BALTIMORE RAVENS 17, CAROLINA PANTHERS 12: Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ first team look ready to dominate.  Matt Moore and the Panthers’ did not. I still think Moore is the guy there for now, but Jimmy Clausen did have good poise in the pocket and made some nice adjustments at the line for a guy in his first live NFL action.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 20, TENNESSEE TITANS 18: Odd game, what with the Mike Williams sighting and Coach Fisher giving the ball to Chris Johnson on three straight plays at the goal line in the first quarter of pre-season week 1.  But I digress. Vince Young looks to me like last year’s quality performance is not a fluke. He flung it around nicely, distributing.  Seattle, meanwhile, seems to be taking on that enthusiastic, high-energy Pete Carroll identity. We’ll see if it means anything when the bullets start flying, but it’s a good sign. Rooke S Earl Thomas did not appear to have any trouble adjusting to the speed of the game, and Justin Forsett made a number of nice runs. He’s going to be the guy, whether they’re saying so or not. You can mark that one.