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NORV-ANA: SMELLS LIKE TEAM SPIRIT?

“They’re the AFC version of the Dallas Cowboys. There’s no mental toughness. When I watch them play, not only is there no mental toughness, I don’t see a lot of physical toughness. I don’t see them impose their will on anybody.” –Ditka

“It’s over.” –Keyshawn Johnson

Me too, Norv. Me too.

That’s it. I’ve finally had enough. After years of sniping from a distance, it’s time to get in for a shot from point blank range. No more will I stand by and watch these men destroy the only franchise left in my native Southern California. For the love of Coryell and Fouts, this must stop.

How does Norv Turner still have a head coaching gig in the NFL? Not unlike heroin use, the habit of recycling head coaches who have failed in multiple locales is one I do not understand. Yes, there’s the immediate thrill of the “big name” coach and the comforting reassurance of his repeated experience…but eventually he just leaves you strung out and devoid of life. Why go there? Have we learned nothing from history? Was it, as Eddie Vedder once suggested, just to see what all the fuss is about?

There is no questioning Turner’s football resume. “Norvana,” as I call him, is a damn good football coach and a brilliant offensive mind. The architect of the Troy Aikman/Emmitt Smith/Michael Irvin wonder years in Dallas under Jimmy Johnson, the man has more than proven himself an imaginative and adept playcaller.

What Turner has not proven himself to be, however, is at least as important when it comes to the position of NFL Head Coach. In this league, two responsibilities distinguish the top dog from his chief lieutenants: administration and leadership. Most of us will never be privy to the facts that would shed sufficient light on Norvana’s administrative talents to comment. And we aren’t at practice on a daily basis or in the locker room with them on Sundays, so we don’t know what his efforts at inspiration, firm-handedness, or relating to his players look like. The only thing we can go by, if we’re being fair about it from where we sit, is what we have seen on the field from the San Diego Chargers under Norv Turner.

Shall we?

For the fourth (count ‘em- four) consecutive season, the Chargers, a team just about everyone seems to agree usually has borderline Super Bowl contender-type talent, have started 2-3. Of course, that talent has been chipped away significantly by now (we’ll get to Spanos and AJ in a moment), but the Chargers were still overwhelming favorites to win a weak AFC West. Six weeks in? I’ll be freaking shocked if the Chiefs don’t win this thing in a walk. And based on the polls, so will you. They just lost a must-win game to the St. Louis Rams. The SAINT LOUIS RAMS! Inexcusable.

My primary criticisms of Norv during his run as head coach of the franchise affectionately known to Sickies as the San Diego Super-Chargers are (1) his teams always come out flaccid to start the season and (2) just when you think they’re peaking, BOOM! They go limp at the end.  Eventually, this threatens the viability of any relationship. So, Norv, not only am I leaving you, I’m telling all our friends and neighbors about your little…issue.

Now, to be 100% fair: Norv Turner’s postseason record as Chargers’ Head Coach is a respectable 3-3, and he’s lost to some good teams. But let me ask you this: did you ever really consider the Chargers a threat to win the Lombardi these past several years? If so, raise your hand.  OK, now, all the Chargers fans, put your hands down.  Right. That. It’s what Coach Ditka was talking about when he made the lead-in comment. The Chargers aren’t tough. At rather inopportune times, in fact, they’re soft. And there’s nothing worse to be in the NFL. Say what you will about Martyball, but his teams fought. There’s just something uninspired about the Bolts under Norv. As there was with the Redskins under Norv. And as there was with the Raiders under Norv. We shouldn’t be surprised. Norv is who we thought he was. He’s the head coaching equivalent of what was once said about quarterback Steve DeBerg: “Just good enough to get’cha beat.”

Nevertheless (and coming off the scintillating high of their AFC Divisional Round home loss to the 9-7, rookie QB, rookie head coach-led New York Jets), the 13-3 Chargers in January gave Norvana a three year extension, taking him through 2013.  This is a team that was supposed to be an every-year Super Bowl contender, remember? The guy they fired to hire Norv, Marty Schottenheimer, finished 14-2 that year and lost to the Brady-Belichick New England Patriots in a tough Divisional Round game at home.

So, here’s the thing. All this starts at the top. Marty didn’t like being told how to do his job, or that the NFL was a passing league, or that he shouldn’t hand it to LaDanian Tomlinson so much. In retrospect, given the numerous examples of owner Alex Spanos and GM A.J. Smith’s hardball style (the Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeil contracts being just the latest), it is no surprise that they eventually got their way. They wanted an “offensive” coach. Well, they got one. So, maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree here. Maybe Chargers fans simply need to make a business decision about whether they think Spanos and Smith have the fans’ best interests in mind (i.e., the best possible on-the-field team) when they make some of these decisions. I would be willing to bet my house that Philip Rivers will be making a similar calculation come contract extension time. Pip does not strike me as someone content to rot away on a middler.

But I think we can safely assume that the owner ain’t sellin,’ and the GM appears to have the owner’s full support. So Norv is the only thing that can change when those two finally realize what the rest of us have known for a long time: Norv Turner is an outstanding offensive coordinator. Lots of good head coaches out there. Guys that have won Lombardis as head coaches. San Diego has a dreamy quality of life and a franchise quarterback- it’s a perfect job for a proven NFL coach who wants back in. The Chargers need to go get one before they waste Philip Rivers like they did LaDanian Tomlinson.

At least he has a shot at a ring in 2010.

____________________________

NFL WEEK 4 IN REVIEW

Another week of drama in the game that never lets us down, the NFL. Kind of a strange one this time. The Eagles enjoyed a seasons’ worth of drama and turmoil in the course of a week, the lowly Jags beat the Colts on a 59-yard field goal, the Niners still can’t win, the Jets and Ravens are asserting themselves, and the NFC is wide open. Let’s have a spin around the league and I’ll tell you what I saw on Sunday as we look forward to a fun Patriots-Dolphins Monday Night Football matchup.

BALTIMORE RAVENS 17, PITTSBURGH STEELERS 14: Ravens win on a classic fourth-quarter drive led by Joe Flacco. Beautifully done. Up to that point, neither team could muster much, to nobody’s surprise. Another physical battle that lived up to its billing. The Ravens clearly missed Ray Rice a bit, and the Ravens clearly missed Big Ben in this game more than the previous three combined. I think maybe the rematch will be more enlightening, if not more exciting. One thing I’m sure of after these past two weeks: the AFC North is just going to beat itself up, all year long.

From 60 to 0 in .3 seconds.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS 17, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 12: What a whirlwind week for the Philadelphia Eagles. After all that, Michael Vick’s starting tenure lasted a handful of plays before he got sandwiched by two Redskins defenders and suffered what must be an incredibly painful cartilage injury in his upper chest/rib area. I’m not a doctor, but that’s going to be tough to play with even if he’s able. Merrill Hoge, who had broken ribs and rib cartilage injuries suggested today that the latter were infinitely more painful and affect every aspect of your life. I wonder what throwing a football, which extends your rib cartilage to its limit, feels like? I’m thinking Kevn Kolb has his job back for awhile. And that doesn’t look like a good thing so far. The Redskins didn’t look significantly better, and Donovan McNabb didn’t look fantastic in his return to the Linc. But he won, and he enjoyed a heartwarming standing ovation from the Eagles faithful, whom I must praise for the class move. Well done. You may boo him from now on when he comes in, but that needed to happen, and it was good to see.

HOUSTON TEXANS AT OAKLAND RAIDERS: So much for all that improvement in the Bay Area I expected prior to the season. The Raiders and Niners are a combined 1-7 and playing out the string a week into October. I can’t put my finger on what’s wrong with the Raiders. Part of it is injuries, as they rarely seem to start the same lineup twice. A big part of it is quarterback play, but Bruce Gradkowski has been fine. The defense has been underwhelming but not atrocious. Whatever it is, 0-4 is 0-4, and there’s not much else to say. The Texans impressed me by putting a bad loss against the Cowboys behind them, going on the road and winning against a team they needed to beat if they consider themselves a playoff team. Arian Foster shrugged off a first quarter benching to rush for another 131 yards on just 16 carries. Dude is legit.

CLEVELAND BROWNS 23, CINCINNATI BENGALS 17: I called it 23-20 Browns, so I’m starting to feel like I know these two teams pretty well. The Browns are making it known that they’re getting off the bus running at you with Peyton Hillis and a dominant offensive line, and if you don’t stop it, neither will they. I like it.  The defense is starting to come together, made some big plays this week, and if they could find Eric Wright might really be onto something. The Bengals are not running the ball as they did a year ago, and the passing game is inconsistent. Cincinnati is a pretty good team, but the thought that their impressive 6-0 record in the division in 2009 rendered them permanently on par with the Steelers and Ravens is obvious bunk.

NEW YORK JETS 38, BUFFALO BILLS 14: The Jets are going to be ranked #1 in my power rankings this week, because nobody has impressed me as thoroughly on both sides of the ball. Look, in a league filled with mediocrity and playing down to lesser teams, the Jets went up to Buffalo and swiftly handled business. I give credit for that, because that’s what championship teams do. Quarterbacks also get credit for going a quarter of the season without throwing a single interception, as Mark Sanchez has done. Keep doubting, doubters. These guys are for real. The Bills are also for real, but in the exact opposite way.  Until CJ Spiller gets more than 5 touches per game, I refuse to take them seriously. Welcome to the NFL cellar, Buffalo.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 41, CARDINALS 10. Here’s what I wrote in last week’s preview before predicting a 31-17 Chargers victory: “I’d say now is about the time for the Chargers to wake up. Philip Rivers is not letting Derek Anderson come to the Q and beat him. No way, no how.”  So, yeah. The Chargers are just a vastly superior team. But Anderson also added to the fascinating narrative that is The Story of How Matt Leinart Destroyed A Super Bowl Team. Anderson continued playing not unlike Derek Anderson, and was eventually replaced by rookie Max Hall. Time to go extra run-heavy in the desert.

DENVER BRONCOS 26, TENNESSEE TITANS 20: Apparently I don’t have a good enough feel for either of these teams yet. As of now, they’re firmly in the Pete Rozelle Memorial Mediocrity Division. They look like the result of a league set up to encourage everyone to finish 8-8.  The Broncos can really throw it around, and that will keep them competitive. I watched it, but I’m still not sure how the Titans managed to lose this game. Both teams lack consistency, but both can be explosive at times and will each therefore win their share of games.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 31, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 28: I’m sticking with the “the Colts will be fine as long as they’ve got #18” story for now, but they’ve got real problems with the run defense. They can’t stop anybody. Then again, they won a Super Bowl one time while we said that about them. They’ll be fine. But 0-2 in the division means it’s not going to be as easy as in years past. The Jags win their Super Bowl on a 58-yarder gun shot by Josh Scobee after MoJo runs wild and Marcedes Lewis continued to develop as a threat with a touchdown catch. As Deion said after the game, “that’s a big man catching the football right there.”

(Sidenote: My high school, Edison High of Huntington Beach, California, played against Marcedes Lewis’ in the 2001 regional title game. A bunch of friends and I attended. Lewis was one of a number of Division I & NFL players on that Long Beach Poly team. Winston Justice, Darnell Bing, Manny Wright and a phenom called Hershel Dennis all went to SC, and the first two are NFL players. Wright was, now plays in the Arena League. Lewis played tight end and defensive end and was unstoppable at each. He went to UCLA. And you may have heard about one of their wide receivers, who also returned punts. His name was DeSean Jackson. I wonder what happened to that kid. He was impressive. Suffice it to say, Long Beach Poly won that game, with Edison keeping it a respectable 42-28 final.)

NEW YORK GIANTS 17, CHICAGO BEARS 3. To paraphrase Dennis Green, ‘The Bears are who I thought they were!” In short, they can’t block a soul on offense and that’s going to be the death of them. The Martz-Cutler combination is an interception waiting to happen in the first place, and that embarrassing sieve of an offensive line is going to make it much, much worse. And the receivers aren’t helping, because they’re not open early enough for Cutler to get rid of it. The Giants aren’t an elite defense anymore, by the way, but they ate Cutler’s face and made some good progress on Todd Collins on their way to ten sacks. You just can’t win like that, and I’ll say it again: the Bears are 1-3 in my mind. They get credit only for the Cowboys win, which was quality. And the defense is fantastic. This is all on the offense. A good must-win by the Giants, who had the perfect game plan on both sides of the ball.

GREEN BAY PACKERS 28, DETROIT LIONS 26: The poor Detroit Lions and their fans. Another heart breaking loss that they just didn’t have enough strength, stamina or time to pull out. But another high draft pick wouldn’t hurt them, especially if they keep taking good ones like Ndamukong Suh, Louis Delmas, Matthew Stafford Calvin Johnson and Jahvid Best.  The Packers are playing to the level of their competition right now. They came out firing like a Madden gamer, with Aaron Rodgers throwing three early TD’s and the Pack getting out to a big lead. But they seemed to shut it down a bit and couldn’t close it out. Again, the running game needs an upgrade with Ryan Grant, who perhaps now will be more thoroughly appreciated, gone for the season.

Sam Bradford has the St. Louis Rams believing.

ATLANTA FALCONS 16, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 14: Yep. That sounds about right. The Niners just can’t find anything resembling a rhythm on offense. At this rate, their defense is going to be exhausted and finished by week 9. Apparently Jimmy Raye wasn’t the only problem. The Falcons continue to look like a tough team to me, but not necessarily a strong one. They have an alarming one-track mind on offense, with Roddy White the obvious focal point, and it bogs them down for long stretches at times. Still, they’re 3-1 and in position to battle the Saints all year long, particularly if the Saints remain intent on playing sloppy football. Speaking of which…

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 16, CAROLINA PANTHERS 14 : Give the Panthers credit- they came to play in this one. The men in teal were smacking people, and James Anderson was Mr. Everywhere They Need Him To Be, forcing a fumble, recovering two more and recording a sack. Jimmy Clausen played acceptably well for a rookie in a tough environment. The Saints’ lack of Pierre Thomas and continued general inability to put it all together on offense kept it close, but the defending champs were able to grind out a tough division win at home.

ST. LOUIS RAMS 20, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 3: OK, I give up. I have no idea who, if anyone, is going to step up and win the NFC West with 6 wins. But I’m increasingly sure someone will. Sam Bradford looks like a number one overall pick, the defense is improved, and even a dinged-up Steven Jackson means people have to respect the run.  Meanwhile, the Seahawks laid their second road egg of the season. Just brutal. Who knew a chartered flight was the difference between a good football team and a bad one?

NFL WEEK 4 PICKS & PREVIEW

Ah, week 4. Usually, by the time this week’s games are over, most teams’ identities have been established and we know at least who absolutely won’t be in the playoffs. As they say, you can’t win it in September, but you can lose it (San Francisco).  On the other side of the coin, the teams off to a good start can put even more air in their sails with a week four victory. 4-0 is a quarter of the season nobody can take back, and puts those teams firmly in line for a dance card come week 18.  And, as if to emphasize the point, the NFL put together some first class matchups for our viewing pleasure this weekend. Let’s take a look, shall we?

FOOTBALLSICKNESS.COM GAME OF THE WEEK:

BALTIMORE RAVENS AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS: I watch this game every time, start to finish. As Mike Tomlin said, “I think it is unique because it is the BEST rivalry in the National Football League.” He’s right, you know. You can have your Dallas vs. whomever, your Raiders-Chiefs, your Packers-Bears for the one millionth time in history on the frozen tundra. Right now, real time, real talk? This is the one. Easily the two most physical teams in the league, the Ravens and Steelers legitimately hate each other. Mostly, I suspect that’s because Monday mornings after these games suck real bad for everyone involved, win or lose.

Need we say more?

But it’s also because they’ve been battling for the division title for more than a decade now, with very little interference from the state of Ohio. Nobody wants to play either of these two on their home turf in the playoffs, and at least one home field game is the likely reward for whichever of these two comes out on top in the AFC North. So these guys will hit each other just a little harder than they hit everybody else, Hines Ward will smile a little wider, Ray Lewis will play a little more ferociously, and it will come down to the wire, as it always does. You don’t dare miss a moment. STEELERS 20, RAVENS 17.

BEST OF THE REST

WASHINGTON REDSKINS AT PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: I assume I don’t have to lay out the entirety of the McNabb/Kolb/Vick/Reid/Donuts storylines. Regardless, this is going to be a fascinating division battle. Can Vick maintain his high level of play against a more genuine NFL defense? (I think he can.) Can the Redskins go into a hostile environment and rally behind their new leader? How will Philly receive DMac5? Most importantly, who wins a key division matchup? Does Andy Reid do anything different to combat all the hours McNabb has no doubt spent in the Redskins’ defensive meeting room? I think the Eagles win a see-saw battle. EAGLES 27, REDSKINS 23.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS AT MIAMI DOLPHINS: If I’m the Patriots, I’m not sleeping well this week. The Dolphins have to feel like they let one get away at home this week, and they’re a good and proud team to begin with. Being the next team to hit South Beach, and a divisional rival at that, is not going to be a treat. The Dolphins have good balance in all phases, big-time playmakers on offense and a coach with the Big Tuna Seal of Approval. Of course, the Patriots, uh, have a few things going for them as well. But the defense is average, and they won’t get many easy victories this season playing as they have. Brandon Marshall just tore up a significantly better Jets secondary, and I have to assume he is licking his chops as he watches film of the New England corners. Another big day for the Beast, and the home team wins.  DOLPHINS 27, PATRIOTS 24.

JUST “THE REST”

HOUSTON TEXANS AT OAKLAND RAIDERS: I don’t like this game one bit for the Houston Texans. They got smacked down by their home state big brothers last weekend, and the Raiders are going to be cheesed after Sebastian Janikowski’s dartboard kicking game cost them a win at Arizona last week. It’s a must-win game for Oakland, who had playoff aspirations three weeks ago. Now they’re holding on for dear life. The Texans need it almost as badly to re-convince themselves that they’re truly a contender, but who’s really the more desperate team? The Raiders. And they’re at home. If Louis Murphy doesn’t play I’m less confident, but I’m calling upset here on a 55-yard Janikowski redemption shot at the gun. RAIDERS 24, TEXANS 23.

CINCINNATI BENGALS AT CLEVELAND BROWNS: These two teams have had some crazy battles in recent years. Who can forget the 2007 barnburner won by the Browns 51-45? (I know. Most all of you have forgotten. Only Browns and Bengals fans would remember. But they’re also probably the only ones reading this paragraph.) In short, I think this is a trap game for the Bengals. They’re coming off two wins, one impressive (over the Ravens), the other not so much (a sloppy victory over Carolina this past Sunday), and they handled the Browns last year twice. The Browns, meanwhile, have reason to believe they should be 3-0. They’ve lost three times with one or two plays the difference in each game. But in week 3 at Baltimore they started to show that power running game that helped them roll off 4 straight wins to close 2009. Assuming Eric Wright decides to actually show up this week, I think the Browns win a close Battle of Ohio at home.  BROWNS 23, BENGALS 17.

NEW YORK JETS AT BUFFALO BILLS: The Jets are rolling and the Bills are the team that just cut their opening day starting quarterback after week 3. I will say this: it worked for the 2007 Browns, who traded Charlie Frye and allowed Derek Anderson to have the basically-mediocre-but-statistically-skewed season on which he still survives to this day. But is really the kind of precedent you’re looking to follow? Aaaaanyway, the J-E-T-S roll in this one, having found their stride by allowing Mark Sanchez to play football.  JETS 27, BILLS 13.

ARIZONA CARDINALS AT SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: I’d say now is about the time for the Chargers to wake up. Philip Rivers is not letting Derek Anderson come to the Q and beat him. No way, no how.  CHARGERS 31, CARDINALS 17.

DENVER BRONCOS AT TENNESSEE TITANS: A horrible Vince Young performance against the Steelers in week 2 notwithstanding, the Titans look to me like a playoff team. They have the best pass defense in the league at the moment, and that plus Chris Johnson means you’re in every game. When Vince Young plays well, they’re an outstanding team. The Broncos put all kinds of yards in the box score but very few points on the scoreboard against the Colts in a week 3 loss. They look totally discombobulated in the red zone, with constant miscommunication between Kyle Orton and his receivers. To my untrained eye, it looks like Orton’s indecision (or, if you prefer, slowness of decision-making) is the primary issue. Denver is without Knowshon Moreno this week and they are not equipped to stop CJ. Titans in a walk.  TITANS 30, BRONCOS 17.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS AT JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: The Jaguars cannot score regularly or stop anybody in the passing game, and the Colts have Peyton Manning. COLTS 34, JAGUARS 10.

CHICAGO BEARS AT NEW YORK GIANTS: While I have no choice but to acknowledge that the Bears are, in fact, 3-0, I don’t have to give them mental credit for it. In my mind, they’re 1-2. Calvin Johnson caught that pass, and the Green Bay Packers lost that game. The Bears do get some credit for not losing them, but I don’t see an elite team. I might see an elite defense. Julius Peppers makes a huge difference and Brian Urlacher looks like he got younger this offseason. Lance Briggs is still the most under-noticed defensive star in the league. But I’m not convinced by the offense. Maybe Martz will work magic with Cutler but he still just forces the ball places he ought not do at this level, which is at least partially a result of the fact that his receivers just aren’t open all that often. The Giants aren’t a great team anymore, but they are a proud one, and they’re not going to lose all their games. This one’s at home against what I’m still calling a paper tiger. I can’t even promise I’ll be impressed with 4-0. But hey, they don’t have to impress me to make the playoffs. They just have to surprise me.   GIANTS 20, BEARS 17.

DETROIT LIONS AT GREEN BAY PACKERS: The Packers gave away a game in Chicago and are going to take it out on the Lions, who have played valiantly and will do so again only to accept a beat-down as their reward.  I still like Detroit’s direction, but they’re not good enough to hang with an angry Pack squad at Lambeau, especially if Jahvid Best can’t go.  PACKERS 37, LIONS 20.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS AT ATLANTA FALCONS: Sorry, Niners. Jimmy Raye or no Jimmy Raye, you now have to prove it to me. Alex Smith continues his enigmatic/mediocre ways and everyone else seems deflated by it, and Mike Singletary’s particular brand of motivational speech is not having the desired effect. The Falcons handled business at New Orleans last week, taking advantage of Saints mistakes for a win. They run the ball, they pass the ball, they defend. I’m taking them. FALCONS 20, NINERS 17.

CAROLINA PANTHERS AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Another “uh-oh” game. The Panthers are a bad team and have to travel to maybe the toughest building in the league right now to face a defending Super Bowl champ who hasn’t played a complete game by a long shot yet and who just lost a game to a division opponent at home on a missed chip shot field goal. Get off the tracks, Jimmy. JIMMY. JIMMY!!!!  SAINTS 24, PANTHERS 9.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS AT ST. LOUIS RAMS: Sam Bradford got his first win at home against a decent Redskins team, so the days of just counting the Rams as a W on the schedule appear to be over. But I’m not sure they’re ready to start stringing them together, particularly if Steven Jackson isn’t entirely right. The Seahawks are the better team here, and should win.  On the other hand, their last road trip produced quite the mess in Denver, and I’m not sure the ‘Hawks are ready to grab this opportunity by the throat, either. I think they win it, but it’ll be a battle. SEAHAWKS 23, RAMS 20.

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.

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.

THE BROWNS NOTE: CHIEFS 16, BROWNS 14

CHIEFS 16, BROWNS 14.


Thomas Jones helped Kansas City control the tempo.

WHAT HAPPENED: Not a whole hell of a lot, actually. Other than Josh Cribbs catching a beautiful bomb from Seneca Wallace in stride and taking it to the House, the Browns’ offense was completely inept. I know. I was surprised, too. The defense shows effort and activity but also a painful lack of team speed. They couldn’t track down Matt Cassell with the pass rush, Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles ran at will, and the Chiefs did just enough to improve to 2-0. They won’t make the playoffs, but they’re getting W’s to build on. A good “find a way to” win on the road for the Chiefs.

…AND THE GAME BALL GOES TO: Absolutely no one. I found almost no value in this performance anywhere. In fact, you know what? Screw it. The game ball goes to me, for managing to watch the whole game without resorting to violence.

BUM OF THE WEEK: The Browns Offensive Line. Um, fellas? You’re the alleged strength of this team. Just a few months ago you helped Jerome Harrison get off for 286 against this same Kansas City team. Yesterday? Nada. Now, I know they were loading the box to stop the run because they don’t respect the pass one iota (and why should they?). But even accounting for that, you’re not getting any kind of push in the run game and the pass protection was mediocre. Pick it up.

THE VIEW FROM DAWG POUND WEST:

1) Which way to the S.S. GRUDES?  I’ve had it.  Yes, Manguin, I like the program you’re building. But on gameday your marbles disappear completely.  And I’m not

Whose patience do you think is thinner, mine or yours?

questioning your sanity, here. Be the aggressor for once. Your quarterbacks suck, we get it. Attack more on defense and be more creative on offense. Remember December? Call that stuff.

2) At least they rode Jerome Harrison a little. He got 16 carries and managed all of 33 yards with them. So much for that.

3) I don’t know whether Daboll called them or the QB read them, but Seneca Wallace doesn’t need to be going deep every other play. Especially on 3rd and 6. The inability of some professional football players to recognize and play within situations never ceases to amaze me.

4)  Hey, Mohammed Massaquoi. Know how I know you’re not a Number 1 receiver? 4 Targets, 1 Catch, 9 Yards. That’s how.

5)  Oh and… Uh Oh.  On and on the losing goes. Where it stops, nobody knows! Their next seven opponents: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, New England, and the Jets. Does it matter where any of ‘em are? 0-9, here we come. Good times. We’re ready for your close-up, Mr. Gruden.

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.