[NFL] Pancakes In the Age of Enlightenment- What Is This? A School For Ants?

I’M REALLY INTO THIS CUP AND BALL THING
As we did last week, we start this week’s column with a rundown of the pinnacle event for the sport the rest of the world calls football.

We’re just about 2/3 of the way through the round robin stage of the 2006 World Cup, and the field of 16 teams that will advance to the single elimination knockout round is beginning to take shape. I’ll tell you everything you need to know in about the next five minutes.

GROUP A
MOVING ON
Group A has given us the surprise team of this tournament. Ladies and Gentlemen, say Buenos dias to the Jorge Mason of this World Cup, Ecuador. The Fighting Ecuadoreans pretty much stamped their ticket to Round 2 by upsetting Poland 2-0 in their opener, then sealed the deal by dusting Costa Rica 3-0 in game #2.

Also advancing are the hosts, Germany. Although a couple unconvincing wins over Costa Rica and Poland has left me unconvinced.

GOING HOME
I was going to take Poland in the 2nd round of my Cup draft, until my lovely girlfriend, a native of the stately port city of Gdansk, (or Danzig, as the krauts called it under their jurisdiction) told me, “Don’t take Poland, they’ll bring you nothing but depression.” I followed that advice, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. In my whole life.

Costa Rica was fun to watch in their opening 4-2 loss against Germany. The magic was gone when they got beaten like a conga drum against Ecuador. Adios amigos.


Viva Ecuador!

GROUP B
MOVING ON
Thanks to a favorable draw, England’s gotten to sleepwalk thru this opening round. We’ll find out how good they are, or are not, in the knockout round.

Sweden will probably be the second team out of this group. Even if they lose their group play finale to England, it would take a blowout win by a Trinidad and Tobago team that hasn’t scored in Germany yet to keep them out of the second round.

GOING HOME
Paraguay, U R Gay.


England Needs to Spice Up Their Play

GROUP C
MOVING ON
Argentina’s years of harboring exiled Nazis has paid off in spades. They have been the best team in the opening stages of this World Cup, outscoring opponents 8-1.

Not to be outdone is Joran Van Der Sloot’s favorite team, the Netherlands. They earned their ticket to the second round by drugging and killing the Ivory Coast, then throwing them in the ocean, 2-1.

GOING HOME
Cote D’Ivoire will go three and out. I guess it’s civil war again for them.
Serbia can also get back to their real national sport, ethnic cleansing, once their brief World Cup stay ends this week.


Argentina Looks Up To No One Right Now

GROUP D
MOVING ON
Portugal moves on by beating Angola and Iran. Which is kind of like how Duke gets to the Sweet 16 by beating Alcorn State and Wisconsin Milwaukee every year.

Mexico also advances provided Angola doesn’t go absolutely yay-yo on Iran.

GOING HOME
Unless Angola can lay an absolute nuclear assault on Iran, and get help from Portugal in their game against Mexico, they’re going back to the diamond mines.

As for Iran, those crazy motherf*ckers are all getting their feet chopped off the second they step on the tarmac in Tehran.


Mexico’s Probably Looking At a Second Round Berth

GROUP E
MOVING ON
In this group, who knows? This is the undisputed Gruppa Della Morte this year. Let’s run down the possibilities:

First, the US. They can only get in if they win their group finale against Ghana, and Italy beats the Czech Republic. Not impossible, especially given the way the US played on Saturday in a 1-1 draw against Italy.

Italy moves on if they win or tie against the Czech Republic.

If Italy loses to the Czechs, they would likely either need a US win over Ghana or a draw between those teams to advance.

The Czechs advance with a win over Italy. If they tie, they’ll probably need the US to beat Ghana to advance. If they lose, they’re going home.

Ghana can advance in number of ways thanks to their stunning 2-0 win over the Czechs this past weekend. If they beat the US, they are in. If they tie, they can still advance if Italy beats the Czechs.


Arlington Heights, Illinois, USA, Representing

GROUP F
MOVING ON
Brazil is like the Hansel of this tournament. They’re just so hot right now. In fact, they probably played their first two games after smoking peyote, and still won them both.

Croatia really screwed the pooch by settling for a scoreless draw against Japan. Now it’s win or else in their group finale against Australia. All the Aussies need to do is milk a draw out of that game, and they move on.

GOING HOME
This is the World Cup of Soccer, not Pachinko. That means Japan’s screwed. Unless they beat Brazil. I have a better chance of being elected King of Norway this week then Japan does of beating Brazil.


Brazil Makes It Look So Easy

GROUP G
MOVING ON
Next to the Italy/Czech/Ghana/US death struggle, this group offers the most interesting scenarios. France is in third place with only 2 points, but they face a Togo team in game 3 who has had to be coaxed by FIFA into not forfeiting its first two games. France, in all likelihood, will win and win big against Togo. Goal differential is the tiebreaker and France is going to play for as many goals as they can get in that game.

If Switzerland and South Korea tie in their match, it likely means South Korea is going home. Switzerland would be left with a +2 goal differential in that scenario, and Korea a +1. France will almost certainly win their game against Togo by more than 2 goals, which would leave them with the tiebreaker over the Koreans.

So, pretty much what we are looking at here is the Swiss and French advancing, unless South Korea can beat Switzerland, in which case it’ll be the Koreans and the French.

GOING HOME
I’ll have one World Cup ass kicking, TO GO. Hell Yes Super Size Me.


Les Blus: 8 Years, No Wins In the World Cup

GROUP H
MOVING ON
You usually can count on Spain to dump all over themselves in the World Cup, but so far that hasn’t happened. Although it looked like it might when they surrendered the first goal of the game against Tunisia. They pulled it together for a 3-1 win though, and will move on to the second round.

Ukraine will most likely be the team to join them out of this group. All they need to do is beat the Fezes off the Tunisians in their final game, and that shouldn’t be too tough for Shevchenko and friends.

GOING HOME
The Saudis will return to Riyadh, each have one of their wives stoned (and not in a good way), and go to sleep on a big pile of money.


Shevchenko’s Pointing Ukraine Toward the Second Round

So that’s what the situation is in Germany. Back in my traditional realm, American football, it’s been a very quiet week. Ben Roethlisberger continues to convalesce from his motorcycle accident, Chris Henry and Santonio Holmes continue to fight the law, with the law winning, and teams continue to run around in mesh shorts at half speed in things called “OTAs”. Other than that, we are experiencing the expected calm before traning camp opens in July. I’m also wrapping up divisional previews this week, with a preview of the AFC West. Are you ready?

AFC WEST PREVIEW
DENVER BRONCOS
Rushing Offense 4.7 Yards Per Attempt, 3rd in NFL, STRENGTH
It’s a well documented fact that pretty much any NFL running back can put on the Broncos’ orange suspenders, get behind that offensive line of theirs, and post a season of well over 1000 yards. That fact was proven once again last year, when the Broncos dusted off Mike Anderson, who had been in mothballs since Eiffel 65 was hot, and got a 1000 yard, 12 TD season out of him. Anderson was complemented by Tatum Bell, whom he split carries with, and who came up just short of giving the Broncos two 1000 yard rushers in the same season.

This year, there’s no reason to expect anything but more of the same. The only difference is that playing the role of Mike Anderson will be former NY Giant first round draft pick Ron Dayne. Dayne was third on Denver’s running back depth chart last season, but averaged over 5 yards per carry when he did get the ball. That stat can be a little deceiving though, because 55 of his 270 yards came on one carry last season in a Thanksgiving Day win over Dallas. There’s reason to doubt whether he will be effective given the 200+ carries Anderson got last season, but it’s the Broncos, so we have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Passing Offense 7.24 Yards Per Attempt, 10th in NFL, STRENGTH; 23 Sacks Allowed, 3rd in NFL, STRENGTH
So what does Jake Plummer get for leading the Broncos further than they have ever gone in the post-Elway era? Well, he gets a resounding vote of no-confidence when the Broncos trade up to draft Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler with the 11th pick of the draft. But he also gets a legitimate star receiver in Javon Walker to play opposite Rod Smith, who at the ripe old age of 35 has posted back to back 1100 yard seasons. How to interpret these mixed messages? It’s actually pretty easy, the message to Jake the Snake is, “Win. Now. Or. Else.”

Denver seems like a great fit for Walker. Even if you throw out the fact that he missed all of last season with an injury, you really can’t consider him a #1 receiver on a Super Bowl contender. He has had one superstar year in his career, in 2004 when he had 1382 receiving yards and 12 TDs with Green Bay. Other than that, he’s combined for a little over 1000 yards in his 3 other NFL seasons. So he’s still got a lot to prove. With Rod Smith playing on the other side of the field, he’s in a perfect environment to get his career back on track.

Rushing Defense 4.0 Yards Per Attempt, 17th in NFL
Part of the reason the Broncos’ run defense was mediocre last season was due to their obligation to face LaDanian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson/Priest Holmes twice a year. Part of it is due to the personnel being pretty mediocre.

Michael Myers and Gerard Warren are the defensive tackles, and neither set the world on fire last year. Warren was the 3rd pick in the 2001 draft by the Browns, and the media gave you the impression he had a good season because he was able to hold down a starting job, but in my country, 19 tackles and 3 sacks isn’t considered all that great.
At linebacker, the Broncos didn’t have anyone rank higher than 39th in the league in tackles. So take that to mean whatever you want it to mean. I take it to mean that their linebackers aren’t very good. One of them is named Al Wilson though, and anybody with the same name as the centerpiece of the greatest wrestling storyline EVER can’t be all bad, in my book.

Passing Defense 5.95 Yards Per Attempt, 6th in NFL, STRENGTH; 28 Sacks, 30th in NFL, WEAKNESS
The Broncos have a strong group of corners, with one Jedi master in Champ Bailey, and a stable of Padawan learners in Darrent Williams and Dominique Foxworth. Bailey had his expected phenomenal season last year, ranking second in the league amongst corners with 23 passes defensed, intercepting 8 passes, and bringing 2 back for TDs. Rookies Williams and Foxworth weren’t bad either. Foxworth had 16 passes defensed, 11th best in the league at his position, and Williams had an interception returned for a TD. Nick Ferguson and John Lynch are a pair of top flight safeties.

The weakest area of the Denver defense is the pass rush. When you have a safety tied for your team lead in sacks with 4 (Hello, John Lynch), that’s a problem. The Broncos stocked their defensive line with guys that had been cast off by the Cleveland Browns, and for the most part they played like guys that had been cast off by the Cleveland Browns. Not a whole lot was done to improve that pass rush in the offseason, so the Broncos will likely struggle in this area once again.

Kicking Game 75.0 % FG Accuracy, 26th in NFL, WEAKNESS
Last season wasn’t a particularly good one for longtime Broncos’ kicker Jason Elam, but he’s always been in the 75-85% accuracy range. Kicking in Mile High can’t be the easiest thing in the world to do, but he’s done it for 13 seasons.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
The Broncos expect to be in the next Super Bowl. With the rest of their division in a state of flux, they could be able to fatten up enough to nail down home field throughout the playoffs. If they can, they just might get there. There are a lot of potent offenses in the AFC though, and the Broncos have too many holes in their defense to get to the promised land. I say close, but no cigar, again.


Jake: Win Or Else

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Rushing Offense 4.6 Yards Per Attempt, 5th in NFL, STRENGTH
If you watched the Chiefs play at all in the last two months of the 05 season, you’ve seen the future, and it is Larry Johnson. LJ ran for 1750 yards and 20 TDs last year, despite not taking over the starting job until Priest Holmes’ season ended early due to concussions. Johnson became the starter in week 9, and twice ran for over 200 yards, and went over 140 yards 5 times. Nobody held him to less than 100 yards rushing in a game. As if that weren’t enough, he also had 343 receiving yards last season. There’s nobody in the league not named Shaun Alexander that even comes close to him at his position right now.

Passing Offense 7.91 Yards Per Attempt, 3rd in NFL, STRENGTH; 32 Sacks Allowed, 15th in NFL
Forgive me for recycling material, but I think I said everything that needs to be said about Chiefs quarterback Trent Green last year, when I wrote a rebuttal to a column to another football column that used to appear on this website:

“Now, let’s take a look at what KC’s done with Trent Green steering the ship. KC’s been to the playoffs one time in 4 seasons with Green as their quarterback, and in the year they did make it, they were one and done after a 13-3 regular season. If the playoffs were to start today, the Chiefs wouldn’t be in them. With Green as the QB, a franchise that had ONE losing season in the entire decade of the 90s has had 3 out of 4 seasons without a winning record, despite playing on an offense with 2 slam dunk Hall of Famers (OT Willie Roaf and TE Tony Gonzalez), and a third guy who could get there too (RB Priest Holmes).

Hence, Trent Green is not a winner.”

So there you go.

In Trent’s defense, he has never had a good corps of wide receivers to work with, and that’s not going to change this year. He’ll be throwing to Eddie Kennison and Samie Parker when he’s not launching the ball 10 yards past Tony Gonzalez. Kennison has somehow managed back to back 1000 yard seasons, after going his first 8 seasons in the league without one despite being the 18th player selected in the 1996 draft. Parker had only 533 yards as the Chiefs’ #2 wideout last season, the Chiefs need more production out of him this year.

Of course, the number one target in the passing game is and always has been tight end Tony Gonzalez. Gonzo had, for him, a terrible season last year. He caught only 2 TD passes, and was held under 1000 yards. Actually though, he’s been under 1000 yards in 4 out of his last 5 seasons though. So the anomaly may have been his bonkers 1258 yard 2004 season, not his more pedestrian 2005.

Rushing Defense 4.1 Yards Per Attempt, 21st in NFL, WEAKNESS
Herein lies the Herm. By replacing the touchy-feely Dick Vermiel with the touchy my knuckles against your face Herm Edwards, the Chiefs hope to remake the silky soft image they have earned on defense in the past 5 years.

The centerpieces of that makeover will have to be linebackers Derrick Johnson and Kawika Mitchell. Johnson was the 15th player taken in last year’s draft, and he was pretty good last year, but didn’t set the world on fire. He was outplayed by Bengals’ second round pick Odell Thurman for the title of best rookie linebacker last season. He’s got the ability to be a player though, and last year was a decent start. Mitchell has steadily improved in each of his last 3 seasons, and is on his way to being one of the better run stopping backers in the AFC.

There isn’t too much to get excited about in the middle of the D-line. Ryan Sims returns from an injury, and will get one last chance after 4 years of being a colossal bust (he was the 6th overall pick in the 02 draft). Jared Allen was the Chiefs’ best defensive player last year, but he’s an end and opposing offenses can direct their running plays away from him if they want to.

Passing Defense 6.59 Yards Per Attempt, 23rd in NFL, WEAKNESS; 29 Sacks, 27th in NFL, WEAKNESS
The reason the Chiefs have not been to the Super Bowl since your dad was still dropping acid, at least in recent years, has been that their pass defense is perennially awful. Last year, the Chiefs thought the addition of former Miami secondary mates Sammy Knight and Patrick Surtain would be the key to turning that around. It wasn’t.

This year, they are banking that former Broncos corner Lenny Walls can start to earn some return on his six feet, four inches of potential. We’ll see how that turns out.

The secondary would probably be better if the Chiefs could put any kind of consistent pressure on the quarterback, which they can’t. Jared Allen was great last year, with 11 sacks, but outside of him, opposing QBs didn’t have much to worry about. Probably won’t this year either, unless first round pick Tamba Hali can make an instant impact.

Kicking Game 81.8% FG Accuracy, 14th in NFL
The Chiefs probably can do better than Lawrence Tynes at kicker. In his two year career, Tynes has made only 7 of 14 attempts from 40-49 yards, which is where your kicker wins and loses games for you.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
Changing your head coach from Dick Vermiel to Herm Edwards is about as drastic as changing your life coach from Richard Simmons to Mike Ditka. It’s hard to say how the Chiefs will respond to it, especially since all of Vermiel’s players are still in place. The Chiefs probably have a better chance of surpassing the Broncos and Chargers and winning the AFC West than they do of holding off the long list of AFC Wildcard contenders. The Broncos have holes, so it’s not out of the question. The Chiefs’ season will come down to their two games against Denver. If they can sweep the Broncos, they’ll go to the playoffs. If not, they won’t.


He’s Not Your GrandMaMa

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Rushing Offense 4.5 Yards Per Attempt, 6th in NFL, STRENGTH
LaDanian Tomlinson has been awesome since day one of his pro career. In 5 NFL seasons, he has never rushed for less than 1200 yards. He has never had less than 1500 combined rushing and receiving yards. He has never scored less than 10 touchdowns. Perhaps most impressive of all, he has never had less than 300 carries, and he has only missed 1 game during that time. He has been the best running back of this decade, and he is going to be a Hall of Famer.

Michael Turner is LT’s backup, and he would be a starter on many other teams. He’s averaged 5.7 yards per carry in his two year career. The Chargers are well insured should anything happen to Tomlinson.

Passing Offense 7.10 Yards Per Attempt, 11th in NFL; 31 Sacks Allowed, 11th in NFL
I’ve spent the last couple of days wracking my brain, trying to think of a past team that was a legitimate Super Bowl contender, like the Chargers are, who have handed over the reins to a quarterback with virtually no pro experience. I can’t think of one. If you can, help me out, because it’s driving me nuts. Anyway, that’s the route the Chargers are going this year. Drew Brees is gone to the Saints, and he’s taken the 51 TD passes he’s thrown in the last 2 seasons with him. It’s now time for Philip Rivers, the fourth overall pick in the 2004 draft, to put down the clipboard and lead the Chargers. His stat line in 2 NFL seasons, 17 completions in 30 attempts, 148 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception, 67.1 passer rating. The Chargers better hope that’s not what they’re going to get over 16 games this year.

Of course, Rivers will have the luxury of having the best tight end in the game at his disposal. Antonio Gates followed up his breakout sophomore season with an even better third year, surpassing 1100 receiving yards and scoring 10 TDs. What Rivers won’t have is a standout wide receiver to work with. Keenan McCardell had an excellent rebound season last year, but he was still under 1000 yards, and he ain’t getting any younger. Eric Parker is a pretty decent #2 wideout, but that’s all. The offensive line is solid, despite lacking any big names. They will probably keep Rivers on his feet, which is a good start.

Rushing Defense 3.5 Yards Per Attempt, 3rd in NFL, STRENGTH
The Chargers do two things really well, running the ball, and stopping the other team from running the ball. Lucky for them, that usually wins you quite a few games. A key part of this team strength is nose tackle Jamal Williams. He’s one of the premier run stuffers in the game, and he makes it very hard for the opposition to get any sort of inside running game going. Luis Castillo plays end in the Chargers’ 3-4, and he too was very stout against the run in his rookie campaign.

Donnie Edwards ranked fourth among NFL linebackers with 154 tackles last season, and he’s had over 150 tackles in each of the last three seasons. Oddly enough, the Chargers have been trying to trade him and his big salary, with no takers. If I had a team, he could play on it.

Passing Defense 6.35 Yards Per Attempt, 20th in NFL, WEAKNESS; 46 Sacks, 6th in NFL, STRENGTH
There’s definitely potential for improvement here. A lot of that will hinge on just how good linebacker Shawne Merriman can be with a full training camp, and a full year of experience under his belt. Last season he shook off a protracted holdout to record 10 sacks in his rookie season. This season even more is expected of him. If he can deliver, it will benefit the Bolts’ suspect secondary greatly.

Quentin Jammer has developed into a pretty good corner, although he carries the tag of being somewhat of an underachiever due to him being the 5th player selected in the 02 draft. He’s not a superstar, but he’s solid. The Chargers hope that this year’s first round selection, Antonio Cromartie, can win the other starting corner job, and perform well in that job. Cromartie missed all of his final season at Florida State with an injury, but he has the kind of ability coaches salivate over. They just turn into big drooling animals I tells ya. The Chargers also shored up the safety position by signing former Carolina Panther Marlon McCree, who put up almost identical numbers to the more heralded Roy Williams of the Cowboys last season.

Kicking Game 87.5% FG Accuracy, 7th in NFL, STRENGTH
Nate Kaeding’s high percentage last season has to be viewed with the fact in mind that he had 0 attempts outside of 50 yards. He can hit from out there though, as he was 3 of 5 in his rookie year of 2004 from that distance. In 2 seasons in the league, he’s been very steady.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
The Chargers have enough talent on both sides of the ball to win the Super Bowl. Whether they come anywhere near achieving that best possible outcome is dependent entirely on how Philip Rivers plays this season. Since we haven’t seen him play, it’s impossible to tell how he is going to perform. The Chargers could finish anywhere from the top of the AFC to under 500, depending on which way the Rivers flows. Oh I’m so clever.


The Only Known Photo of Philip Rivers Throwing an NFL Pass

OAKLAND RAIDERS
Rushing Offense 3.8 Yards Per Attempt, 20th in NFL, WEAKNESS
Last season, there was much ooohing and aaahing when the Raiders signed running back Lamont Jordan to be their feature back. Despite never having rushed for over 500 yards or being a #1 running back in his 4 year career, this was viewed as a great signing for some reason. Jordan wasn’t bad last year, but his presence fell short of turning the Raiders’ running game into the strength it was when Jon Gruden was coaching them. Jordan rushed for just over 1000 yards, which in reality was quite good considering that is twice his previous season high. He’ll be back this season, and will give the Raiders what he gave them in 05, a solidly mediocre running game.

The Raiders had better hope Lamont stays healthy, because if the backups, Justin Fargas and DeJuan Green are forced into featured roles, then they’ve got big time problems. Fargas rushed for 28 yards last season. No not on one play, I mean for the whole season. Green is an undrafted rookie out of South Florida. Awesome!

Passing Offense 6.58 Yards Per Attempt, 18th in NFL; 45 Sacks Allowed, 25th in NFL, WEAKNESS
One of the most baffling things to happen in the 2005 season was the complete ordinariness of Randy Moss. He wasn’t controversial, he wasn’t misbehaving, and he wasn’t playing that good either. He was like some sort of lobotomized replicon. He got off to a great start, going for over 100 yards in each of the Raiders first 4 games, and getting loose for 3 catches of over 60 yards. Then, after the Raiders bye week, he wasn’t the same player. He didn’t have another 100 yard game, or a catch for over 30 yards, until the season finale.

Much of this has to do with the instability the Raiders had at quarterback last year. Raider fans kept calling for the benching of Kerry Collins, even though there was no viable alternative. When he was benched, the cure, Marques Tuiasosopo, was worse than the disease. So back in Collins went.

This season, Collins is gone, and in his place is veteran Saints signal caller Aaron Brooks. Brooks enjoyed a fair amount of success in New Orleans (120 TDs vs. 84 interceptions on his career), with little more than Joe Horn to work with at receiver. It will be interesting to see how much he is able to improve with Moss, Jerry Porter (942 yards and 5 TDs in 05), Doug Gabriel (554 yards), a returning Ronald Curry, and Jordan (563 receiving yards) at his disposal. Look for a big improvement out of the Raiders offense this season.

Rushing Defense 4.0 Yards Per Attempt, 18th in NFL
Hard as it is to believe, the Raiders are going to be hurt by the offseason loss of 500 year old Ted Washington. One thing Ted has always been able to do, and can still do, is stuff the run. He was the Raiders’ top D lineman in tackles last year, and ranked in the top 20 in the league at his position. The Raiders still have DT Tommy Kelly, who had only one fewer tackle than Washington last season, but they will need Warren Sapp to stay healthy and productive for a full season this year to offset the loss.

At linebacker, Kirk Morrison and Danny Clark played pretty well last year, despite being completely anonymous to anyone other devout Raider fans. They could be joined in the starting lineup by this year’s second round pick, Thomas Howard.

Passing Defense 6.67 Yards Per Attempt, 25th in NFL, WEAKNESS; 36 Sacks, 19th in NFL
Quick who led the NFL in sacks last year? No, you’re wrong. It was the Oakland Raiders’ defensive end, Derrick Burgess. After getting a whopping 2 ½ sacks in his first 4 seasons in the league, Burgess arrived from the Eagles last season and caught fire. He finished the season with 16 sacks and 58 tackles, and probably was the single biggest reason the Raiders defense was not a complete disaster last year.

The Raiders will need Burgess to continue to limit the time opposing quarterbacks have to throw the ball, because their corners are inexperienced. Fabian Washington was the team’s first round draft pick last year. He will be a starter this season now that Charles Woodson is gone. Nnamdi Asomougha is at the other corner. He had a solid 05 with 14 passes defensed, but the Raiders need him to make more plays. He didn’t have a single interception last season. Michael Huff was the seventh player taken in this year’s draft. He can play corner or safety, and he will be an instant starter somewhere in the Oakland secondary.

Kicking Game 66.7 % FG Accuracy, 32nd in NFL, WEAKNESS
Apparently Sebastian Janikowski was dipping into his own Rohypnol stash before games last season, because he was awful. After having very good years in 03 and 04, C-Bass was 20 out of 30 last season, and 7 out of 15 from more than 40 yards. Last year was probably an aberration, but it can’t happen again, or he’ll be gone even though he was the rare kicker taken in the first round back in 2000.

HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
The Raiders operate like a mid-market baseball team that just throws out any collection of reasonably priced free agents they can find every year. Art Shell is their 3rd coach since Jon Gruden left, if you can believe that. The franchise has some talent, so they won’t be a total disaster on the field, but no direction and no coherent plan. They’ll win 5 or 6 games this year and once again be last in the AFC West


Will We Hear More From Randy in 06?

THAT’S A WRAP
Aaaand that’s it for this week.

Special thanks to Patrick for taking the time to gussy up my column last week. Read about him going all kamikaze style into a clearly Chivas establishment (as is the diner I eat lunch at most days) wearing an America jersey.

Next week you will find very minimal NFL coverage, since pigskin-wise I’m icing things down here until camps open in a month. Instead, we’ll have more in-depth coverage of the knockout round of the World Cup. See ya then!