AN OPEN LETTER
To: Brooks Boyer, Head Marketing Guy, Chicago White Sux
Dear Mr. Boyer-
I think that the time has come to change the White Sox theme song from “Na na na na Hey Hey Good Bye” to either “Sugar We’re Goin Down” or “Wake Me Up When September Ends”. I think “Sugar We’re Goin Down” would be better because the band that sings it is from Chicago, and I once saw them at a street festival in 2003, another year in which this goddamn baseball team blew a division lead in September, which they are in the process of doing again.
I had six hypodermic shots in the mouth today that did not cause me as much pain as the last two suckfests put forth by our White Suck. I have faithfully supported this piece of shit franchise for my 25 cognizant years on this Earth, and I deserve better than the daily kick in the nuts I receive as the team you work for collapses on a scale greater than any team every has in 150 years of this stupid game we call baseball. You make me sick, and I blame every ounce of my growing insanity on you.
On a side note, I think your next Turn Back the Clock Day should Turn Back the Clock to 2000. Have fans dress up as big Frank and go 0 for 20 in the Pontiac Fundamentals Fan deck. It would also be acceptable to dress up as the shadow between the mound and the plate at Safeco Field and have Kelly Wunsch stand behind you and get drilled. I would dress up as my broken Sony all in one remote control that I threw against the wall watching you lose two out of three to the Royals. Seriously, every single player should be able to show up drunk and still win 2 out of 3 against the Royals. I could show up drunk and win 2 out of 3 against the Royals, just give me your bullpen catcher and we’re all set.
In closing, I would like to say you suck and the White Sox suck and this whole damn system sucks. I hate you and a curse upon your moustache.
Love and kisses,
An Angry White Sux Fan
I’M A GENIUS
From Last Week’s Column
“The Browns will try to stay in the game as long as possible with a conservative offensive game plan. They will run William Green and Reuben Droughns a lot, and incorporate high percentage underneath passes to the tight ends and to WR Dennis Northcutt. There is sure to be a lot of congestion in the areas the Browns are trying to attack though, and the Browns will almost certainly fall behind and be forced out of their conservative gameplan.
The Winner- Cincinnati 27, Cleveland 13″
I’M AN IDIOT
“The Bucs will try and play ball control on offense, but that’s not going to be an easy proposition. These ain’t your big brother’s Vikings on defense. Pat Williams and Kevin Williams give Minnesota perhaps the best tackle combination in the league, and Tampa running back Cadillac Williams could get a rude welcome to the NFL. If the Bucs can’t get the running game going, that means more Daunte Culpepper, and that means a loss for Tampa.
The Vikings will win this game thanks to a big assist from, surprise, their defense.
The Winner- Minnesota 27, Tampa Bay 17″
Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you.
Week One Prognostication Record: 8-8 straight up, 6-10 vs. pointspread.
I vow revenge.
BALTIMORE RAVENS (0-1) at TENNESSEE TITANS (0-1)
1 PM Eastern, CBS, Ravens favored by 4
The Ravens took an ass kicking at home on national TV from the Colts last week. The 24-7 loss was a classic example of what this team has become, all bluster and bravado, and no substance. Ray Lewis waved the flag and went into spasms as he was introduced, ESPN fawned all over the Ravens’ defense all night, but in reality, Peyton Manning did whatever he wanted to do for most of the game, and the score could easily been worse were it not for a couple of overthrown passes. The Ravens allowed Edgerrin James close to 4 yards a carry, and even though the defense kept the score close for a half, you knew it was only a matter of time before the Colts broke through.
And the defense is the strength of the team. The offense was worse than usual. My Kyle Boller voodoo doll worked beautifully last Sunday night. He left the game with a hyperextended toe, which Tara Reid presumably is sucking on as I write this. The Ravens couldn’t get the running game going, with Jamal Lewis rushing for only 48 yards on 16 carries, and if the Ravens can’t run, they can’t score. Anthony Wright came on at QB after Boller exited and looked a little better than Boller, but not much. The upgrade to the receiving corps, namely the addition of Derrick Mason, does make the offense look slightly more NFL caliber. Nobody had a worse night than K Matt Stover, who missed all 3 field goal attempts, greatly changing the zeitgeist of the game.
As bad as the Ravens looked in their opener, the Titans looked worse. They allowed Pittsburgh’s third string RB, Willie Parker, to rush for 161 yards, and gave up numerous big plays in the passing game. The Titans’ defense looked worse than it ever has under coach Jeff Fisher. The new offense installed by coordinator Norm Chow was forced to play in catch-up mode on the rare occasion it actually got to see the field. Chris Brown ran the ball well when given a chance, but only got 11 carries. QB Steve McNair couldn’t dent a suspect Steeler secondary, and it says here that you could see Billy Volek handed the reins of the offense sooner rather than later.
WEEK 2 GAMEPLAN
Tennessee’s futility in stopping the Steelers running game last night bodes very well for the Ravens. If Willie Parker can run for over 160 yards against Tennessee, surely Jamal Lewis should be able to break the century mark and allow the Ravens to control the clock. Titans DT Albert Haynesworth was virtually invisible against Pittsburgh, and he will have to be a force for the Titans to have a chance.
Anthony Wright will be the quarterback for Baltimore this week, and even though he is not very good, he is an upgrade over Kyle Boller. Wright is an athletic QB who brings a different dimension to the Ravens offense, but in this game it is imperative that he limits mistakes. The Titans will load up the box to stop Lewis, if Wright can hook up with Derrick Mason on short, positive passing plays, it will force the linebackers to respect the pass, and open up running lanes for Lewis.
While Baltimore will try to grind it out, Tennessee’s best bet on offense is to use McNair’s veteran savvy to exploit the blitz and pick up the big play. TE Ben Troupe was a rare bright spot last week. Baltimore’s new 46 defense involves lots of blitzing, and this will open up opportunities for Troupe to make plays.
Making a call on this game is not very difficult. When a team with a strong running game meets up with a team that can’t stop the run, the team that can’t stop the run is going to have a long day.
Ravens 23, Titans 13.
“OW! My toe! Suck the Poison, Suck the Poison!!”
THE WAGS SAY
“Jamal Lewis has some purty eyebrows.”
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (1-0) at HOUSTON TEXANS (0-1)
1 PM Eastern, CBS, Steelers 6 point favorites
The Steelers could not have asked for a better performance in their season opener, and it would be hard to imagine the Texans being any worse in theirs.
Let’s start with the bad news first. The Texans went into Buffalo for their season opener and were absolutely depantsed, losing a 22-7 game that was not even as close as the score indicated. QB David Carr, who seems to be regressing, had a putrid outing. He was 9 of 21 for 70 yards, and was picked off 3 times. Duke University quarterbacks post better stat lines than that. The running game was also ineffective, with Domanick Davis leading the team with 48 yards on 14 carries. The defense managed only one sack and no turnovers, the offense turned it over 5 times, and Carr was sacked 5 times. It was, in short, about as bad a performance as you’ll see in the NFL.
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, looked exactly like the team that went 15-1 last year in drumming the Titans 34-7. There was concern that their running attack would suffer with third stringer Willie Parker forced into action, but Parker carried for 161 yards. QB Ben Roethlisberger posted a perfect 158.3 QB rating, completing 9 of 11 passes for 218 yards and 2 TDs. Antwaan Randle El looked like he can replace Plaxico Burress as the Steelers second option in the passing game. The defense forced 4 turnovers. Yes, it was only one game, but the Steelers looked better than any team in the league did in week one.
WEEK 2 GAMEPLAN
The Steelers approach every single game the same way. They will line up and smash the ball down your throat until you show they can stop them, which almost never happens. Last week, Willis McGahee rushed for 117 yards on 22 carries against Houston, so you can expect more of the same out of Willie Parker this week.
Houston is going to have to fight fire with fire in order to stay in this game. Last week, Tennessee was able to run the ball effectively against the Steeler defense, the only problem was they fell so far behind that they had to abandon the running game. Houston can have success on the ground with Domanick Davis. It is also imperative that they protect the ball. Teams that lose the turnover battle rarely come out on top, and with Pittsburgh’s offense slanted so heavily towards the running game, they don’t turn the ball over much. Last week, Davis lost a fumble, and Carr threw 3 picks. If they do anything approximating that this week the Texans are dead meat. Buffalo runs an offense very similar to Pittsburgh’s (Bills head coach Mike Mullarkey was the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh before shuffling off to Buffalo), and Houston’s defense did not look good against Buffalo last week. Pittsburgh does Mullarkey’s offense better than Buffalo does at this point, so the defense is not going to win this game for Houston.
Finally, David Carr just has to be a whole lot better. Last week his favorite target, WR Andre Johnson, was invisible. Johnson is going to have to find a way to get open, and the Texans line is going to have to give Carr enough time to get the ball to him. Both teams can run the ball effectively, if the Texans can mix in a couple quick strikes through the air, they could give the Steelers problems. The Steelers will attempt to keep Johnson in check by jamming him at the line. The Texans like to move Johnson around, if he lines up in the slot, the Steelers will use a linebacker to try and knock him off his route before he gets 5 yards deep.
Pittsburgh’s not as good as they looked last week, nor is Houston as bad as they looked. Don’t expect a blowout in this game. The Steelers are just so effective within their offense though, and their playmaking defense will force Carr into making mistakes. I see Pittsburgh putting away the Texans in workmanlike fashion, closing the deal in the fourth quarter.
Steelers 30, Texans 17
THE WAGS SAY
“Who in the holy name of hell is Willie Parker?”
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (1-0) AT CAROLINA PANTHERS (0-1)
1 PM Eastern, CBS, Patriots 3 point favorites
New England answered a lot of questions in kicking off the NFL season with a 30-20 win over Oakland last Thursday. All offseason long, the pundits have been lining up to give reasons why the Patriots won’t threepeat as Super Bowl Champions, including the loss of both their coordinators and just the formidable odds against such an achievement. It doesn’t look like they will give up their Lombardi Trophy without a fight though. They didn’t dominate the Raiders, but you never got the feeling they were really in trouble either. Tom Brady was at his cool and collected best, picking up the slack for a running game that couldn’t get untracked, and throwing for 306 yards and 2 TDs. The only area of concern was the secondary’s inability to hold Randy Moss in check.
Few teams were as disappointing in their opener as Carolina was. Well, actually, Minnesota and St. Louis were pretty disappointing, and the Jets, well OK there were a lot of disappointing teams in week one, but Carolina is definitely in the team picture. The Panthers were very sloppy, turning the ball over four times and losing to a Saints team that had no business beating them, 23-20. Making matters worse, DT Kris Jenkins blew out his ACL and was lost for the season, continuing a Panther tradition of debilitating season ending injuries that began last year.
WEEK 2 GAMEPLAN
These 2 teams had a 32-29 shootout in the Super Bowl two years ago, and I think you’ll see something similar in this matchup. New England’s defense showed last week that they are not impermeable. The secondary can be attacked, and Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith will see to it that they will be kept busy. One of the few bright spots in Carolina’s loss last week was that they showed a strong running game. Stephen Davis looked healthy and back to his 2003 form. The Panthers will try to loosen up the defense by connecting with the deep ball, much as the Raiders did with some success last week, then batter the Patriots with Davis and DeShaun Foster until the linebackers and safeties are drawn into the box, then repeat the process. The Patriots defensive line may not need that much help to contain the run though, DT Richard Seymour had 8 stops last week. If Seymour can effectively police the line of scrimmage, New England will be able to divert their resources in the back 7 to stopping the pass.
The stat that jumps out at me most from Carolina’s loss to the Saints last week was the number of sacks the Panthers had, zero. You expect better than that out of a line that many consider to be the best in the league.
If they can’t pressure Tom Brady, Brady will beat them, it’s as simple as that. One certainty with the Patriots is that their gameplan will always be the exact opposite of what you expect it to be. A good reference point would be to look at the Super Bowl meeting. In that game, Brady attacked the Carolina corners, completing 10 passes to Deion Branch, 8 to Troy Brown, and 5 to David Givens. Carolina has upgraded that position since then though, installing Ken Lucas and Chris Gamble as their new starting combo. This means that they will have to run the ball effectively in this game, which they didn’t do against Oakland. Tom Brady will not throw for over 300 yards in this game, like he did against Oakland. Corey Dillon is going to have to show up in this game for the Patriots to come out on top.
This game is a must win for Carolina. They started the season 1-7 last year, and falling out of the gate with an 0-2 record this year could be fatal to their season. New England showed me last week that they are vulnerable against a team that can get the ball downfield, and Carolina can do that. Carolina beat themselves last week with turnovers and lack of focus. There should be no lack of focus this week. I like the Panthers to even their record at 1-1.
Panthers 24, Patriots 20
THE WAGS SAY
“I can’t wait to see Brady with his hands on his head smiling like a homo again. It’s coming – you all know it.”
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (1-0) AT INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (1-0)
Both of these teams were very impressive in week one. Jacksonville did everything winning teams do in their 26-14 victory over Seattle. Most notably, they forced 5 turnovers and did not turn the ball over themselves a single time. They also showed a balance in their offense that has been missing in recent years. QB Byron Leftwich is showing signs of maturing into a top tier NFL quarterback, RB Fred Taylor is healthy for now, and WR Jimmy Smith looks ageless. The Jaguars also have an exciting rookie in WR/RB/QB Matt Jones, who they line up everywhere except hot dog vendor, creating confusion and matchup problems for the opposition.
This is supposed to be the Super Bowl year for Indianapolis, and they looked the part in their first test of the season. They went into Baltimore and absolutely dominated the Ravens. The most impressive aspect of their 24-7 win was the way the shut down the strong Raven running game, holding Jamal Lewis to 48 yards on 16 carries.
WEEK 2 GAMEPLAN
When these 2 division rivals met in Indy last year, Jacksonville came away with a 27-24 upset victory. They did it by controlling the clock, leading time of possession 34 minutes to 25. That’s going to be a little more difficult to do this year. New DT Corey Simon makes all the difference in the world for the Colts. He and the rest of the Colts defense shocked the Ravens by completely shutting down their running game last week. Because of this, you might see Jacksonville open things up a bit more than we are used to. Leftwich was 23 of 30 for 300 yards in the Jags victory over the Colts last year, and last week Anthony Wright and Kyle Boller both had some degree of success throwing the ball downfield. The Colts’ defensive line has evolved into a formidable unit, so expect the Jaguars to try and get another big game out of Jimmy Smith, and to use Jones to create headaches for the Indy defense.
The Colts have had a lot of success in the past utilizing their slot receivers against Jacksonville. Brandon Stokley caught 7 balls for 112 yards in the Colts’ loss last year. The Jags corners love to utilize press coverage, so what you will see is the Colts’ wideouts, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, attempting to break the press and get open deep. This will not only create opportunities downfield but will force Jacksonville to funnel their coverage toward the sidelines, creating lots of room for Stokley and whoever is at tight end (Dallas Clark missed last week with a concussion and was ably spelled by Ben Utecht) to operate. Jacksonville had trouble containing the running game last week. Shaun Alexander averaged over 5 yards a carry, and Edgerrin James averaged close to that in the 2004 meeting in Indy of these teams.
Jacksonville won last week because of their ability to force turnovers. Peyton Manning will not make the same mistakes in this game that Matt Hasselbeck made against the Jaguars last week. The Colts are eager to avenge last week’s defeat, and eager to show that their defensive masterpiece against the Ravens was no fluke. Jacksonville can’t win a game that it can’t run effectively in, and they won’t be able to rely on a ball control formula to beat the Colts this time.
Colts 27, Jaguars 16
THE WAGS SAY
“Let’s go Insurance Adjustors, Let’s Go!!”
BUFFALO BILLS (1-0) AT TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (1-0)
1 PM Eastern, CBS, Bucs favored by 2 Ã‚Â½
The Bills looked good in more ways then one last week. They came out in some sweet throwback unis, then proceeded to stomp a mudhole in the Houston Texans. The defense was nothing short of dominating, and at this point can rightfully claim that they are the best in the league. The Bills knew their defense would be good though. What they didn’t know is what they would get out of their new QB, JP Losman, a second year player who didn’t take a snap last year. Losman was solid in his debut, completing 17 of 28 for 170 yards, and most importantly, no interceptions. Losman managed the game, handed off to Willis McGahee, and let the defense do the rest. It’s a formula that may win the Bills a lot of games this year.
Tampa Bay shocked everyone by rolling into Minnesota and thrashing the Vikings 24-13 last Sunday. They did it because they now seemingly have what they’ve lacked for a long time, a running game. Rookie RB Cadillac Williams carried 27 times for 148 yards in a spectacular debut performance. The defense was 2002 vintage. They forced 5 turnovers, were impregnable against the run, and made Daunte Culpepper look awful. Are the Bucs back? That’s yet to be seen, but they’re very dangerous.
WEEK 2 GAMEPLAN
Buffalo’s offense is heavily geared toward their ability to run. Tampa Bay’s run defense looked awful good last week, but Willis McGahee is a little tougher to stop than Moe Williams. To get a read on how the Bucs defense will fare against McGahee, I’ll take a look at how they did against a similar back in their own division last season, Deuce McAllister. The answers aren’t that encouraging. McAllister carried 21 times for 102 yards in one meeting, and 25 times for 89 yards in another. Tampa will focus all their efforts on stopping McGahee. Losman is going to have to make the Bucs respect his arm, but Culpepper couldn’t complete passes downfield last week, so Losman will probably struggle to do that too.
John Gruden’s offense is built around a quick passing game that attacks the flats. That’s not going to be easy against the Bills. Their linebackers are among the best in the league, and much, much better than what the Bucs faced in Minnesota last week. This is going to place an added burden on Cadillac Williams, who looked great last week, but again, it was against a suspect defense with a lot of new faces that may not have learned how to play together yet.
It all comes down to who will be able to do their thing and execute their gameplan. I think Willis McGahee can run on the Bucs defense. They are a defense built on speed, and ill equipped to handle a battering ram like McGahee. Tampa’s offense, meanwhile, relies on its ability to exploit holes in the defense created by blitzes and bad linebackers. Buffalo doesn’t blitz a lot, and they don’t have bad linebackers. This means that Tampa is going to have a hard time executing their offense. Losman is going to have to be very careful with the ball, because the Bucs defense can make turnovers happen. So far he has shown he can do that, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt there. These are 2 teams that are clearly on the upswing, but I’m just a little more of a believer in Buffalo right now than I am in Tampa.
OJ Simpson Would Be Proud, If He Wasn’t So Busy Finding the Real Killers
THE WAGS SAY
“This is going to be a real exciting game -for me to poop on.”
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (1-0) at PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (0-1)
1 PM Eastern, FOX, No line currently
The Niners somehow managed to beat a pretty decent Rams team last week despite having their leading rusher compile 22 yards on 14 carries, and their QB attempt 16 passes. They did it by staying true to their mission statement under new coach Mike Nolan, causing havoc with an athletic defense. The Niners sacked Marc Bulger 3 times, including 3 by Bryant Young, and scored a special teams touchdown which ended up being the difference in the game. The talent level is low on this team, but they showed that if you don’t show up against them, they can beat you.
Philly looked about how you would expect them to look after their tumultuous offseason, disjointed and out of synch. They lost 14-10 on Monday Night Football against the Falcons, mainly because they could not find a way to stop the run. Warrick Dunn and TJ Duckett ran at will against the Eagles defense, and it allowed Atlanta to maintain control of the game.
WEEK 2 GAMEPLAN
Eagles QB Donovan McNabb suffered a chest injury against Atlanta, but he should be ready to go for this must win week 2 tilt. With McNabb available, there really is no reason the Eagles should lose this game. They showed a vulnerability to the running game last week, but as evidenced by Niners RB Kevan Barlow’s uninspiring performance in week one, that is not a weakness the Niners will be able to exploit.
San Francisco is going to have to try and force turnovers with their defense. This presumably would involve disguising coverages and blitzing, but it’s dangerous to do that against the Eagles. The reason is that the Eagles are the ones that disguise what they are going to do on offense. When playing the Eagles, an opposing defense has to find where RB Brian Westbrook is lining up, then figure out how they are going to cover him. That keeps the defense on their heels, and does not allow them to dictate who is confusing whom. The Falcons had success against the Eagles because they play a pretty straight up defense, because they have the personnel to do that. San Francisco’s defense isn’t bad, but if they sit back and don’t try and make anything happen, the Niners will lose big because on this team all the playmakers are on defense.
The Eagles are going to blitz and show different looks like they always do. Last week they harassed and confused Michael Vick, and they will do the same thing to Tim Rattay this week. The difference is Rattay does not have anywhere near the mobility that Vick has, and will have a hard time evading the rush.
Look for a return to normalcy for both of these teams this week, and for the Eagles to roll.
Eagles 34, Niners 10
THE WAGS SAY
“I wouldn’t be surprised to find out Andy Reid has lupus. That guy’s fat.”
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (0-1) AT CINCINNATI BENGALS (1-0)
1 PM Eastern, FOX, Bengals favored by 3
The Vikings were one of a host of teams with big expectations who dumped all over themselves in their opening game. Daunte Culpepper couldn’t get the ball downfield past the Bucs Cover 2 defense, the running backs couldn’t gain yardage to loosen up the defense, and the result was a surprise 24-13 beating at the Metrodome at the hands of Tampa Bay.
It took a little while for the Bengals to get things going against the Browns last week, but once they did they cruised to an easy 27-13 victory. RB Rudi Johnson sat out the start of the game for violating an unspecified team rule (read: caught whacking it in the team shower). Once he got back on the field though, the Bengals were able to use their balanced attack to control the game. Most encouraging was the performance of Carson Palmer, who completed 26 of 34 attempts for 280 yards and two touchdowns. He is looking like he will be the rare #1 overall pick to actually succeed in the NFL at quarterback. Not like David Carr.
WEEK 2 GAMEPLAN
The team that can best keep the other team off balance is usually the team that is going to win. Few teams do that better than the Bengals. They are equally dangerous in the running game or in the passing game. Last week rookie Cadillac Williams shredded the Vikings defense for 148 yards. The Bengals will try to do the same thing with their stud back, Rudi Johnson, and will probably have great success doing it. If the Vikings can’t stop the run without making a major commitment to doing so, that will also open up the Bengal passing game. That’s how Chad Johnson and the Bengal air attack make their living, feeding off defenses that can’t stop Rudi, and you’ll probably see more of the same in this contest.
The difference for the Vikings this week will be that they could be able to go blow for blow with the Bengal offense. A lot of that is going to depend on whether they can get any semblance of a running game going. Last week they couldn’t. That meant Tampa didn’t have to bring help from their back 7, and Culpepper couldn’t air it out to Nate Burleson or his other receivers the way he normally does. Last week Reuben Droughns averaged over 6 yards a carry against the Bengal defense, so there is hope. For the Vikings to be able to run the ball, they will have to hurt the Bengals downfield with the pass. This is entirely possible, because Nate Burleson will be matched up against Bengal CB Tory James, who is hampered by a foot injury.
This game is going to be a wild one, and an entertaining one. I’ll go with the Bengals because they are at home and because it is a sure thing that they will be able to run effectively. The Vikings can’t say that. They are really feeling the absence of injured C Matt Birk, and are struggling at other positions on the offensive line as well. Gimme the Bengals!
Bengals 33, Vikings 28
THE WAGS SAY
DETROIT LIONS (1-0) AT CHICAGO BEARS (0-1)
1 PM Eastern, FOX, Lions favored by 2
So maybe Detroit really has turned it around huh? Last week they dominated the Packers, who have won the NFC North every year since its inception in 2002. Their defense completely shut down a pretty good Green Bay offense, and their own attack looked balanced and efficient. A 17-3 win was the result, and with a win this week, they could be off to a 2-0 start with both wins coming in their own division.
The Bears game against the Redskins was as ugly as most imagined it could be. Kyle Orton was under the spotlight as a 4th round rookie starting at quarterback. He didn’t play all that bad, and you could even say he’s a viable option as a starting quarterback, if the Bears could run the ball. The problem was the Bears couldn’t run the ball. Thomas Jones led the team with an anemic 31 yards rushing. Compounding that was that the small, fast Bears defense was beat up all day long by the Redskins large offensive line, and Clinton Portis ran at will. If you can’t run, and the other team can, you’re gonna lose 11 times out of 10, and the Bears did lose 9-7.
WEEK 2 GAMEPLAN
The Lions made Brett Favre look confused last week. How do you think Kyle Orton’s going to do? The Bears have to, have to, HAVE TO make a better effort to try and establish a running game then they did last week. But really, how big of a commitment to the run can you make when you don’t have a running back that can handle carrying the ball more than 20 times a game? Thomas Jones isn’t big enough and Cedric Benson isn’t ready. So that leaves Orton being thrown to the wolves to try and win the game with his arm, throwing to the worst receiving corps (outside of Muhsin Muhammad) this side of San Francisco.
The Bears like to harp on how good their defense is. Coach Lovie Smith has even gone as far as to call it the “best defense in the league”. Uh, they’re not the best defense in the league. They can’t stop the run, and if you can’t stop the run, you’re not a good defense, you’re a bad defense. The Lions are going to run the ball and see if the Bears can stop them, which I’m willing to lay money on that they can’t. When these two squads met in week sixteen last season, Kevin Jones carried 25 times for 123 yards. This was without Charles Rogers in the lineup, without Mike Williams, and without Marcus Pollard, who against Green Bay looked like the missing ingredient in the Lions offense. Last week, the Bears gave up 121 rushing yards to Clinton Portis, so it’s not like they’ve gotten any better at stopping the run in the last nine months.
The Detroit passing game is so much more dangerous now then it was in the last meeting, and the Bears had problems giving up big pass plays to the Redskins last week. The Redskins, you may remember, have a pass offense that looks like a Tecmo Bowl offense when the defense picks the same play as you do. This tells me that the Bears are not going to be able to load up against the run without getting burned on pass plays.
This game is going to be a wakeup call for the Bears as an organization. Things have gotten really bad for this team through years of mismanagement, and I don’t think the current regime realizes just how bad they are. After this game, they’ll know.
Lions 27, Bears 3
A Similar Thing Happened to Me Recently….
THE WAGS SAY
“As bad as Harrington is, he is better than any QB
the Bears have had in the last 60 years. Seriously. Look it up.”
ST. LOUIS RAMS (0-1) AT ARIZONA CARDINALS (0-1)
4:05 PM Eastern, FOX, Cardinals favored by 1
This game features a matchup of two teams that fulfilled Webster’s definition of “shitting the bed” in week one. The Rams went into San Francisco to face a Niners team that most felt would have trouble matching its 2-14 record of last season. Next thing they knew, Marc Bulger was peeling himself of the Monster Park grass no less than seven times, Tim Rattay was carving up the Rams secondary en route to posting a 141.9 QB rating, and the Rams had lost a division game 28-25.
The Cardinals are the sexy pick in the NFC West this season, which is fitting because when one looks at coach Dennis Green, one word comes to mind, sexy. They looked the part in the first half on the road against the Giants, taking a 13-7 lead into the locker room at halftime thanks to an interception return for a TD by linebacker Karlos Dansby. In order to nurse a lead though, you have to be able to run the ball and the clock. The Cardinals couldn’t do that, as indicated by the fact that the fleet footed Kurt Warner was their leading rusher with 11 yards on 3 carries. Special teams breakdowns don’t help either, and the Cardinals had two of them in the second half that both resulted in touchdowns. The end result was a 42-19 beating that dampened hopes in the desert.
WEEK 2 GAMEPLAN
Last year the Rams went into Tempe in Week 15 without QB Marc Bulger or RB Stephen Jackson, and were thumped by the Cardinals 31-7, with their only score coming on a Leonard Little fumble return. They should be able to generate a little more offense in this game with Bulger healthy, and with Stephen Jackson as the feature back.
However, in that game the Rams allowed Josh McCown to complete 22 of 34 for 287 yards. The Cardinals showed last week that their passing game is much more dangerous than it was last season. WR Larry Fitzgerald caught 13 Kurt Warner passes for 155 yards and a TD, and it looks like he could be a breakout star in 2005. Look for the Cardinals to try and hurt the Rams downfield, and exploit corners Travis Fisher and DeJuan Groce, both of whom are merely adequate on their best day. In order to be successful throwing the ball downfield, Arizona is going to have to be more successful running the ball than they were last week. Rookie JJ Arrington and Marcel Shipp were both totally ineffective against the Giants, and the strength of the Rams defense is their ability to stop the run, so it will probably be rough sledding again this week.
What the Rams really need to be worried about is the seven sacks they allowed last week, because the Cardinals have the defense to inflict just as much damage and then some. Part of the reason for that was that Marc Bulger threw the ball 56 times, which against a team that you are light years more talented than is simply ridiculous. I’m beginning to suspect Mike Martz isn’t as smart as he thinks he is. What I want to see out of the Rams this week is 30 carries out of Stephen Jackson, and see if the Cards can stop him. Arizona was 27th in the NFL against he run last year, so chances are that they can’t. But what they can do is put pressure on the quarterback and force mistakes.
It’s hard to make a prediction on this game, because it’s very obvious what the Rams need to do to win this game, but Martz doesn’t always make the obvious decisions needed to win games. If Jackson gets over 30 carries, the Rams will win. But if the Rams fall behind early, which it’s very possible they could with the Cardinals high powered passing game, Martz will push the panic button and abandon the run and then things could get ugly. The Rams lost 31-7 at Sun Devil Stadium last year, which tells me they don’t match up well with the Cardinals, and for that reason I pick Arizona.
Cardinals 30, Rams 27
THE WAGS SAY
“Who’s a worse coach – Martz or Holmgren? How dothose guys keep their jobs and Wannstedt gets fired? I don’t get it.”
ATLANTA FALCONS (1-0) AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (0-1)
4:05 PM Eastern, FOX, Pick ’em
Coming off a weekend where “The Excorcism of Emily Rose” was America’s number one movie, Atlanta’s defense fittingly played like they were possessed in beating the Eagles 14-10 on Monday Night Football. The Falcons used their formula of suffocating, aggressive defense, Michael Vick creating confusion for the opposing defense, and a running game that exploits the gaps in the defense that Vick creates. Warrick Dunn rushed for 117 yards on 21 carries, and kept the chains moving and the Eagles on their heels the entire game.
The Shehawks, uh Seahawks, put forth another exasperating performance last week against the Jaguars. Seattle turned the ball over 5 times, didn’t force any turnovers, and that alone means a loss every single time. Matt Hasselbeck had a terrible game and threw 3 interceptions, and Shaun Alexander was only given 14 carries. The end result was a 26-14 season opening loss.
WEEK 2 GAMEPLAN
This game is a big test for the Falcons. If they are truly a team ready to make a run at the Super Bowl, which it looks like they might be, then they have to win these games on the road against decent teams. They are currently on a 5 game losing streak away from the Georgia Dome counting last year’s NFC Championship game loss to Philadelphia. The Falcons usually try to loosen up the defense early in the game by letting Vick throw the deep ball, even though it’s usually not successful, the strategy works well enough to put fear in the opposing coordinator. This opens up gaps on the field that they exploit with the quickness of Vick and Warrick Dunn. They were able to do this effectively enough against one of the best defenses in the league last week, so there is no reason to think they won’t be able to do the same this week.
The Seahawks will have to run the ball a lot in order to stop Atlanta’s defensive ends, especially Patrick Kerney, from pinning their ears back and coming after Matt Hasselbeck. If Hasselbeck gets pressured, he showed with his 3 interceptions last week that he is likely to make mistakes. Atlanta has an opportunistic defense, and they are licking their chops after watching film of the Seahawks turning it over 5 times last week.
Losing on the road is a hard habit to break, like smoking doobies, and it is impossible for the Falcons to sustain the level of intensity they showed against the Eagles. But after watching the Falcons last week, I’m buying what they’re selling. I think they have earned the right to be called the team to beat in the NFC at this point, and I don’t think Seattle is the team to beat them.
Falcons 20, Seahawks 16
THE WAGS SAY
“Michael Vick has redefined the quarterback position.”
“Oh, man, so you mean I’m stuck with my outdated Tom Brady? SHIT!! I gotta run out and get me one of those QBs that completes less than 50% of his passes and throws for about 140 yards a game then.”
MIAMI DOLPHINS (1-0) AT NY JETS (0-1)
3:15 PM, CBS, Jets favored by 6
There were a lot of surprises last Sunday, and the Dolphins beating the Broncos was one of them. But they didn’t just beat them, they mauled them 34-10 and looked very impressive in doing it. I think when assessing this year’s Dolphins, you have to take into account that the guy coaching them last year is now getting beat by Ohio University for a living, which means Miami is not nearly as bad as they looked last year. They are a tough win for anyone that plays them.
Chad Pennington played last week like a man with no thumbs. He fumbled not once, not twice, not thrice, not fourice, not fivrice, but six times. And rest assured, it was a privilege to watch each and every one of those six fumbles. Chad was awful, Curtis Martin went back to looking old, the defense came damn close to allowing 2 100 yard rushers in one game, and the Jets lost 27-7 to the Chiefs.
WEEK 2 GAMEPLAN
For Pennington and the Jets, a good place to start would be to solder some sort of handle onto the ball. Everyone knows that Pennington fumbled six times, but how about Lavaernues Coles dropping two sure touchdown passes? The Jets are going to try to avoid a repeat of their performace of Football Follies 2000 by establishing Curtis Martin and the running game. There’s a problem there though, because the Dolphins held the vaunted Denver rushing attack to only 70 yards last week. If Martin can’t get untracked, that means the Jets are going to have to rely on Chad Fumblington’s creaky shoulder and buttery hands to keep them in the game. Keep in mind though, that the Jets rushed for 275 yards the last time these two teams met. Which Dolphins defense will show up? If it’s the 2004 vintage, the Dolphins have no chance, if it’s the one we saw last week, those that are shocked that Miami is 1-0 will be even more shocked to see them at 2-0.
A lot of people dig on Gus Frerotte, but the guy has been in the league for at least ten years now after coming out of nowhere, and has started a lot of games in that time, so he’s not that bad. He’s got good arm strength and can get the ball downfield, and is smart enough to read coverages. Yes, he head butted a wall after scoring a touchdown once, giving himself a concussion, but cut the guy some slack okay? Frerotte exploited a depleted Denver secondary last week, but he probably won’t be able to do that this week with Ty Law at one corner and the solid David Barrett at another. Because of this, they probably will put a much heavier emphasis on the run this week. Hey didn’t the Jets give up close to 200 yards on the ground last week? By cracky, they did! Cadillac Williams had a breakout game last week, could his Auburn understudy Ronnie Brown do the same this week? Maybe.
This game is a must win for the Jets. If they start out 0-2, the New York media is going to want Herman’s Head on a pike. On the basis of X’s and O’s, I like the Dolphins in this game, but the Jets are playing for their season here, and they’re at home, so I’ll take the Jets in a close one.
Jets 27, Dolphins 24
THE WAGS SAY
“The Dolphins blew their load last week. They won’t score now until week 5.”
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (0-1) AT DENVER BRONCOS (0-1)
4:15 PM, CBS, Broncos favored by 3
There are lots of people waiting for Drew Brees to go back to sucking this year, and he didn’t do anything to dispel those voices last week against the Cowboys. Brees was probably the main reason why the Chargers lost a shocking 28-24 decision at home last Sunday. He was 18 of 35 for 209 yards, and threw 2 interceptions. When Brees is good, his strength lies in his accuracy, as evidenced by the 65.5% completion percentage he had last year. When he’s bad, like he was last week, the completion percentage goes down and the Chargers lose.
The Chargers looked bad last week, but the Broncos looked worse. Denver may thrive in the cold temperatures and high altitude of Mile High, but they melted in the 90 degree heat and humidity of Miami. Losing two key players in Champ Bailey and Mike Anderson to injuries didn’t help. The Broncos rely on their running game, and it deserted them against the Dolphins. Tatum Bell led the team with 47 yards rushing. Jake Plummer was forced into trying to lead the team to a comeback, and more often than not that will only result in interceptions.
WEEK 2 GAMEPLAN
TE Antonio Gates is back this week after sitting out last week with a suspension, and it makes all the difference in the world to the Chargers offense. The Chargers did a good job getting the ball to their wideouts last week, as evidenced by the 14 catches and 198 yards they got out of Keenan McCardell and Eric Parker. With Gates in the lineup, the passing attack becomes so much more dangerous, because the safeties have to be concerned with covering the middle of the field. This will create opportunities for McCardell and Parker, and rookie CB Darrent Williams will be covering one of them if Bailey has not recovered from the shoulder separation he suffered last week. Gates helps the running game too, getting the attention of linebackers and creating running lanes for LaDanian Tomlinson, who was not his normal dominating self with Gates out of the lineup last week. The return of Gates is going to help the Chargers, but, keep in mind that in the 2 meetings between these teams in 04, Brees completed only 28 of 57 passes, and accumulated only 229 passing yards in the two games combined. They will need Tomlinson to control the game in order to win.
The Broncos are known for their running game, but in their 2 meetings with San Diego last year, they did not have anyone rush for over 38 yards. With Anderson injured, they will probably have to go with Tatum Bell as their feature back in this game. If the Chargers’ defense holds form, Denver is going to have to beat San Diego with the passing game. Denver was forced into the same situation last week against Miami, and the results were terrible. Chances are they won’t be any better against San Diego.
Both teams are going to have problems moving the ball in this game. Denver will probably have more success throwing than running, but they’re a running team. Last year they were 8-2 in games where they had a back rush for over 100 yards, and 4-4 when they didn’t. Chances are they won’t get Tatum Bell over 100 yards in this game. Tomlinson, on the other hand, will feed off the return of Gates, and improve greatly over his 72 yard performance against Dallas. The Broncos have lost their last 3 games against division opponents, including a loss at home to the pre-Randy Moss Raiders last year in week twelve. Denver has been on the decline for a long time, maybe this year it’s time for the fall.
Chargers 17, Broncos 13
THE WAGS SAY
“Ashley Lelie will finally have that Breakout game everyone’s been waiting 4 years for.”
CLEVELAND BROWNS (0-1) AT GREEN BAY PACKERS (0-1)
3:15 PM, CBS, Packers favored by 6 Ã‚Â½
Well, if you’re a card carrying, Dawg Faced, Browns fan, the good news is the Browns are considerably better than last year. The bad news is, they’re still not all that good. They did look competitive in their week one 27-13 loss to the Bengals. Trent Dilfer was adequate at quarterback, WR Frisman Jackson came out of nowhere to catch 8 passes for 128 yards, and Reuben Droughns showed that the ability he showed in Denver last year translates to another team. But once the Bengals stopped toying with the Browns and got the ground game rolling with Rudi Johnson, it was all over. They’re making strides, but there is still lots of work to be done.
The vultures are once again circling over Lambeau Field. Just as you can count on a Chicago baseball team collapsing every September, you can count on Packer Nation reaching for the Panic Button at the same time. Last week the Pack was completely dominated in a loss at Detroit, 17-3. Adding injury to insult, Green Bay lost its top receiver, Javon Walker, to a season ending ACL blowout. Last year, the Packers limped to a 1-4 start but rebounded to win 9 out of their last 11 and win the NFC North. Is a similar pattern in store for this year? Or is this the year the Packers’ 12 year run of excellence ends with a thud?
WEEK 2 GAMEPLAN
The Browns’ offense is not constructed to throw the ball 43 times, like it did last week. RB Lee Suggs is back after missing week one with an injury, so what the Browns should do is come out pouding the ball between the tackles with Suggs and Reuben Droughns alternating carries to keep each other fresh. The more minutes the Browns can take off the clock, the longer they can stay in the game and open the door for a turnover or special teams play to tilt the game in their favor. If the Browns can use the running game to draw in the defense, they will be able to have success throwing the ball. It’s the same formula the Lions used last week and the Browns have the ability to do the same thing.
Green Bay is a team that relies on its offense to win games. Last week, that offense was a no-show. They should have a little more success this week. Cincinnati pretty much moved the ball at will against the Browns last week, and their attack is similar to the Packers, centered on using the run to create single coverage for the wide receivers. The loss of Walker hurts, but Brett Favre has made a long lineage of average receivers look good, and Robert Ferguson should be able to replace him adequately.
The Packers need to stay focused and disciplined in this game. Last week they were -3 on turnover differential, and had 14 penalties called on them for 100 yards. A loss at home to Cleveland would light up the suicide hotlines throughout Wisconsin, so expect the Packers to play a lot more carefully than they did last week. They won’t have an easy time with Cleveland, but they will win and avoid an 0-2 start.
Packers 27, Browns 17
THE WAGS SAY
“Javon Walker was treated for a wound to the hindquarters Sunday evening after karma came back that afternoon to bite him in the ass. That’ll teach you to hold out, ya prick. “
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (1-0) AT OAKLAND RAIDERS (0-1)
8:30 PM Eastern, ESPN, Chiefs favored by 1 Ã‚Â½
The Chiefs were all that and a bag of chips in their season opener against the Jets. Chiefs fans were holding their breath to see how the retooled defense would look, and it looked very good. First round LB Derrick Johnson was a demon, leading the team with nine tackles and recording a sack. Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes split carries at running back, and they looked like they are going to be a lethal combination all season long.
The Raiders kicked off the 05 season last Thursday against New England, and played about exactly as expected. The offense combined a decent running game and an all or nothing passing game to stay with the defending champs for much of the game. In the end though, defensive ineptitude got the best of them, Tom Brady performed surgery on the secondary, and Raiders lost 30-20.
WEEK 2 GAMEPLAN
These two teams are archrivals, and this contest is going to go a long way towards establishing the pecking order in the AFC West this year. Last year, KC swept the Raiders in a pair of high scoring shootouts. That was with a horrid defense. From all indications, things are a lot different this year. Last week the Chiefs put the heat on Chad Pennington all day long and forced him into an embarrassing outing. The Raiders QB, Kerry Collins, has a reputation of being a fumbler, so you might see similar results this week. The Raiders have to try to alleviate the pressure on Collins by establishing Lamont Jordan and the running game. Jordan looked pretty good in his first bow as a feature back last week, but he’s facing a defense that held last year’s rushing champion and his mentor, Curtis Martin, in check last Sunday. The Raiders have to give Collins enough time to find Randy Moss and Jerry Porter deep. If they can’t those two will be effectively neutralized.
Kansas City just looked awesome last week. I really like what they are doing by having Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes share the rushing load, and they will do that again this week. When these teams met in Oakland last year, Johnson and Derrick Blaylock combined for 155 yards on the ground. Oakland did a good job bottling up Corey Dillon last week, but past history dictates that they won’t be successful containing the Monsignor and Baby New Year. What is a certainty though, is that the Chiefs are going to move the ball through the air with the greatest of ease. Last year Trent Green threw for 358 yards and 343 yards in two meetings with the Silver and Black. In one game, Eddie Kennison was the man that burned them, in the other, Tony Gonzalez did the damage. Oakland was gutted by New England’s passing game last week, and the Chiefs’ attack is just as dangerous.
Teams that are serious Super Bowl contenders win games like this. I put this game in the same category as Atlanta’s trip to Seattle this Sunday. We’ll learn a lot about what exactly we have in this year’s Chiefs team from the way they respond to a tough early season test on the road. I think their offense is just too much for the Raiders to contend with, and I think KC’s defense has improved enough that they can hold the Raiders in check better than they did last year.
Chiefs 37, Raiders 23
Do The Chiefs Have An Improved Defense? They Most Surtain-ly Do.
THE WAGS SAY
“There is no love lost between these two storied AFL franchises and you can bet blah blah blah blah shut up.”
MONDAY NIGHT DOUBLEHEADER!
This Monday we get not one but two Monday night games. The NFL has declared it Hurricane Relief Night, and you will be able to call in and donate money for the Katrina victims during the telecasts of the Saints vs. Giants game on ABC (and later ESPN), and the Cowboys vs. Redskins.
You’ll get previews of both of those games from me, but you won’t get them until MONDAY. I will be doing a special column previewing those two games, and giving you my initial quick takes on Sunday’s action.
In the meantime, check out the rest of the crew!
Reverend Sick introduces himself and UFC.
Steve Price leads into the NASCAR Chase for the Championship!
Eugene Tierney has a baseball roundtable, including a contribution from yours truly.
Aaron Cameron counts down the worst fans in pro sports.
Todd Rogers gives his take on Week One and last week’s NCAA games.
Dr. Jay takes you out to the ballgame with his account of his trip to last week’s Phils-Astros wild card showdown.
Slayer shows you what I call FUNDRAISING! Well, there’s something raising alright! Hayoooo!
Phillip Ciprotti is our very own Stephen A. Smith only not as smack in the face-able.
Patrick Nguyen holds court on IP Sports Radio!
That’s it for now. Check back on Monday and we’ll preview the special Monday night twinbill!