Archive for September, 2004

Best Division a Surprise

Thursday, 23 September, 2004

By Zack Cimini

Coming into the 2004 season there were plenty of divisions that looked up for grabs. But as week two has concluded there is one division in particular that looks very interesting. That division is the NFC North, which will not just be a two headed race as once thought. The Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings will have tough competition with the up and coming Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions.

Everyone knew that the Lions have plenty of talent and will be the future of this division. But that was figured to happen once Brett Favre retired and Joey Harrington got another few years under his belt. It is still extremely early in the season, and who knows both the Lions and Bears could fall off at any given time. The big thing though is that both of these teams will cause chaos to the Vikings and Packers.

The Packers were already shocked last week when the Chicago Bears came into Lambeau Field and beat them with ease. Here is a team with a new starting quarterback in Rex Grossman and a new running back in Thomas Jones. Jones was never given an equal opportunity in Arizona or Tampa Bay, and Chicago brought him in letting him know that he will be the fire in this offense. They want him to be a factor like Priest Holmes, and so far he is living up to those expectations. He has learned to hit the hole better instead of dancing behind the line. This is the type of play the Cardinals expected from him when they used the seventh pick in the draft for him.

Jones could easily be a top eight running back in the league this time next year. The Bears have had a solid young defense throughout the struggles of the last few years, but it has always been the offenses inability to convert any points. Though that could change now that the defense was hit hard the past week with injuries. They lost their starting cornerback in Tillman for seven to ten weeks and Mike Brown for the season. So the offense may need to pick up the defense the rest of the year, but you can bet that Brian Urlacher will have his unit ready to play.

Another player on the Bears team that deserves talk is David Terrell. He has had two solid opening weeks, and is also finally living up to expectations. The main thing with the Bears is they have came in with a new philosophy that all started when the Bears got a new coaching staff. Rex Grossman and company will probably struggle to win six games, but you can bet a lot of their losses will be by seven points or less.

The Lions on the other hand could vie for the division title if Joey Harrington keeps playing like a poised third year starter. He really has surprised a lot of people this year in the way he has been patient in the pocket and his ability to read defenses. A lot of it has to do with his new rookie wide receiver Roy Williams who has been able to get open with ease. You?d think defenses would be able to cover him better with the loss of Charles Rogers but that hasn?t been the case. One thing that?s a big concern about the Lions is they?ve had a couple of easy games against the Chargers and Texans.

You can just see the takeover in this division starting to happen overnight, even though it?ll likely be a season or two.

Running Back Rankings

Saturday, 18 September, 2004

By Zack Cimini

1. Ladainian Tomlinson
2. Priest Holmes
3. Clinton Portis
4. Shaun Alexander
5. Deuce McAllister
6. Ahman Green
7. Fred Taylor
8. Jamal Lewis
9. Marshall Faulk
10. Warrick Dunn
11. Curtis Martin
12. Edgerrin James
13. Rudi Johnson
14. Corey Dillon
15. Tiki Barber
16. Kevan Barlow
17. Quentin Griffith
18. Travis Henry
19. Thomas Jones
20. Domanick Davis
21. Chris Brown
22. Emmitt Smith
23. Brian Westbrook
24. DeShaun Foster
25. Duce Staley
26. Charlie Garner
27. Onterrio Smith
28. William Green
29. Kevin Jones
30. Tyrone Wheatley
31. Willis McGahee
32. Lee Suggs
33. Travis Minor
34. TJ Duckett
35. Jerome Bettis

Updated Quarterback Rankings

Wednesday, 15 September, 2004

By Zack Cimini

1. Peyton Manning
2. Donovan McNabb
3. Daunte Culpepper
4. Trent Green
5. Tom Brady
6. Aaron Brooks
7. Mike Vick
8. Matt Hasselbeck
9. Carson Palmer
10. Rich Gannon
11. Brett Favre
12. Steve McNair
13. Chad Pennington
14. David Carr
15. Jake Plummer
16. Joey Harrington
17. Jeff Garcia
18. Drew Bledsoe
19. Mark Brunell
20. Marc Bulger
21. Brad Johnson
22. Tommy Maddox
23. Byron Leftwich
24. Jake Delhomme
25. Vinny Testaverde
26. Tim Rattay
27. Drew Brees
28. Josh McCown
29. Kyle Boller
30. Rex Grossman
31. Kurt Warner or Eli Manning
32. Miami?s Fantasy Value is about as good as a Navy QB

Teams Declining

Friday, 10 September, 2004

By Zack Cimini

As the NFL season kicks off tonight there are already
coaches afraid for their lives. There are so many
average teams in the league this year that the playoff
scenarios will be considered silly. Who would have
thought that the Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals,
and the Seattle Seahawks would be serious playoff
threats a few years ago? Nobody, but because they
built up with young inexperienced players they are now
ready to challenge the rest of the league.

There are other teams though that look like they are
going to be in for a long year. Let?s take a look at
those teams.

1. Miami
There isn?t another team in the NFL that went from a
serious threat to a lottery draft pick than Miami.
Here is a team that can?t get anything right whether
it?s in the front office or on the field. On the
defensive side of the ball they lost Jamar Fletcher
for David Boston who is out for the year. That?ll hurt
them big time because Fletcher was actually making
improvements last season. With the NFL?s big time
receivers it is going to be hard for just Madison and
Surtain to shut down opposing teams. In fact, last
year Madison was an average cornerback on any given
Sunday. They Dolphins also lost Ogunleye for Marty
Booker, which makes no sense at all. Add to the fact
that Miami just lost the third round pick they
acquired in that trade for the rights to former St.
Louis running back Lamar Gordon.

You would think if Miami seriously wanted another
running back they would have pulled off this trade a
week or two after Ricky Williams declared that he was
retiring. It?ll probably take Gordon two to three
weeks to get use to Miami?s system and it?s going to
make this offense look horrendous on the field. They
struggled throughout the entire preseason on offense,
and Dave Wannstedt was forced to rename Jay Fiedler as
a starter. It?s almost sad to see what is happening to
this team in Miami, because they?ve been a serious
threat since Dan Marino came to the team. A lot of the
defensive veterans aren?t too happy with the direction
of this team, and unless something changes quickly I
don?t think Wayne Huizenga will be either.

2. New York Giants
The Giants are another team that have been contenders
over the years but can never put it together. Now
they?ve brought in Kurt Warner who came alive in the
final preseason game to earn the starting job. Who
knows maybe Warner can stay focused on the field and
stop being jittery. He knows that he is auditioning
for another team, because as soon as the Giants aren?t
playing well he is going to be out for Eli Manning.
This team is just getting older and older. They?ve had
the same nucleus of players for a long time now that
just haven?t produced enough. Amani Toomer and Ike
Hilliard have been the Giants top two receivers for
years now, and it might be time to shuffle a new guy
in there. And we all know what happened with Thunder
and Lightning.

3. Atlanta Falcons
It seems that everyone has keyed on Michael Vick in
the preseason, as his play has been sub par. He just
hasn?t seemed comfortable as a pocket passer. I think
he may have been told information similar to what Jake
Plummer was when he was younger in the league. Plummer
had the tendency of scrambling too much, so his
coaches exemplified looking for the pass more. As he
started to do that more and more mistakes started
happening because he was concentrating too much on
finding the open receiver. In Vick?s case though he
needs to erase those thoughts and just take off
whenever. There were too many times in the preseason
games that he had open lanes to run in but didn?t
utilize the situation. The Falcons should win six to
eight games, but they?re a year or two away from
making it back to the playoffs.

4. Arizona Cardinals
Who knows why Dennis Green decided to declare that the
Cardinals would be a playoff team. There is no way on
Earth they are going to win more than six or seven
games. They have a backfield that has already failed
two years ago as a tandem in Emmitt Smith and Troy
Hambrick. Add to that they have a new starting
quarterback that hasn?t had a chance to mature with
his receivers because they?ve been hurt the entire
preseason. This all adds up to a horrific start to the
year, unless of course Dennis Green actually does have
them prepared. But from the way they played in the
preseason that isn?t a realization.

5. Tampa Bay
This team actually won the Super Bowl not too long
ago, but they could be non existent when it comes to
the playoffs two years later. They have a star wide
receiver holding out, and another in Joey Galloway
that has had his ups and downs in the league. Their
offense has never been flashy and their defense isn?t
going to be able to hold them up like it did in the
past. They?re still a solid all around team that will
battle for a wild card, but their days on top are
quickly winding down.

Week One Preview

Friday, 10 September, 2004

By Zack Cimini

The football season kicks off with plenty of action, or should we just say the season is starting? We all know that the first couple of weeks of the season showcase some of the worst rust a team can have. Whether it is a receiver dropping a pass, extra penalties, etc they all can be seen as early season mistakes in week one.

Indianapolis at New England
Here is the rematch that the Colts have been waiting for. They?ve lost four straight to the Patriots, which is strange because of the Colts dominance over recent years. It just seems the Patriots know how to shut down Peyton Manning better than any other team. One of the other major reasons is because Ty Law can actually cover Marvin Harrison one on one, which not many cornerbacks can do. Peyton better be careful tonight, as he threw three interceptions in the preseason but still looked solid. Someone needs to end the Patriots string of victories dating back to last season, so why not have it start in week one?

Arizona at St. Louis
Here is a team that can make Marc Bulger look great and add to his confidence. The Cardinals should be able to stay in this game if their defense can contain Torry Holt. Josh McCown will need to protect the ball and just take what?s there. He has little time to practice with Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson because of their injuries. Watch out for wide receiver Kevin Kasper though, because him and McCown have developed a great chemistry.

Baltimore at Cleveland
Can the Browns actually hold Jamal Lewis under 200 yards? It?s pathetic when a player can make a prediction the day before the game and go out and do it. But it?s even worse if he does it again later in the same season. It?ll be interesting to see the Browns new look with Jeff Garcia at the helm. If he can bring his Pro Bowl caliber style to Cleveland, than they could be a dangerous team.

Cincinnati at NY Jets
Here are two teams on the rise that might see each other when the playoffs come along. The Bengals all of the sudden have one of the top five offenses in the league, and are not just considered to make the playoffs. On the Jets side they have a new wide receiver in Justin McCareins to go along with deep threat Santana Moss. This year Chad Pennington will start off the year healthy and try to build on where he left off a couple of years ago. Pennington hardly makes mistakes, and that?ll help the Jets win an extra two to three games that?ll prove pivotal down the stretch.

Detroit at Chicago
One of these teams will be 1-0 after Sunday. The Lions and Bears have both actually improved over the off season, especially the Lions. Matt Millen is finally making some right decisions, and has this team poised for dominance in two to three years. If they can keep the youth of this team together, they?ll be taking over for Brett Favre and the Packers. The Bears are going to try to give Thomas Jones the show and see how it handles it. It?s a shame that the Cardinals let him go so early, and now they?re finding themselves struggling at running back.

Jacksonville at Buffalo
Drew Bledsoe?s years are quietly winding down, and he knows that he needs to do something this year. They have a solid all around team that should pose threat for a wild card. One thing that could get in a way is another position battle. Willis McGahee and Travis Henry don?t get a long too well, and the same thing use to happen with Doug Flutie and Doug Johnson. You have to wonder why the Bills drafted McGahee in the first place. Sure he?ll be a great running back, but they already have one in Henry. It?s only going to lead to team chemistry problems that could knock them out of the playoffs in crunch time. With Jacksonville it all will fall on Byron Leftwich?s shoulders. If he learned enough his rookie year than he could shock the league, especially with the most underrated running back in the league in Fred Taylor.

Oakland at Pittsburgh
Here are two teams that are trying to get back to the dominance they had a few years ago. Both teams still have plenty of talent to do it, but is the motivation factor there? The Raiders parted ways with Tim Brown and will try out youngsters Jerry Porter and Ronald Curry. The good thing for them is they still have Jerry Rice to guide them. On the defensive side it?ll be interesting to see how Warren Sapp plays in silver and black. Pittsburgh?s whole downfall could end up being at quarterback where Tommy Maddox just hasn?t done it, and it?s going to take awhile to bring along their first rounder.

San Diego at Houston
David Carr and the Texans are a mini version of the Indianapolis Colts. They have explosive fire power and a solid young defense. This could actually be a rout considering the way the Chargers have looked in the preseason. You have to feel bad for Tomlinson, because as long as he stays in San Diego his efforts will be for nothing.

Seattle at New Orleans
New Orleans could possibly be the most underachieving team in the league. This year could be different though if they can play productive for the whole year, instead of in spurts. Seattle seems to be a popular favorite to come out of the NFC, and who can blame anyone with the talent they have on both sides of the ball. This should be one of the most exciting games of week one.

Tampa Bay at Washington
Mark Brunell and Clinton Portis will get their new debuts and will try to take advantage of the new look Buccaneers defense. If Brunell can get this offense clicking the Redskins could emerge as a sleeper in the NFC. Tampa Bay just has too many question marks at running back and wide receiver to pose any serious threat this year. Any team that can score more than 16 points should be able to win against them.
Tennessee at Miami
It seems like these two teams are playing each other every year in the regular season. Miami could be on the verge of losing their second straight regular season opener, after having a streak of 13 years snapped against the Houston Texans last year. This should be a sloppy game but in the end, it?ll come down to Jay Fiedler. Will he actually try to make plays or will Miami?s offense be stagnant and punting all game.

Atlanta at San Francisco
Tim Rattay gets his shot at controlling the 49ers for the whole season. It will more than likely be a rough one because of his young group of receivers. Kevan Barlow should be able to help out a lot, and Brandon Lloyd has looked exceptional in preseason play. The fact is first year starters always struggle and Rattay will be no different.

Dallas at Minnesota
The Vikings are once again without Michael Bennett for a good period of time. Culpepper needs to learn to protect the ball better even though he may have to run more without Bennett. He still has the best player in the league in Randy Moss who may have a career year statistically with the way he has played in the preseason. Dallas will more than likely not follow up on last year?s success, but they should finish around .500.

NY Giants at Philadelphia
Donovan McNabb will finally get his revenge against Kurt Warner in this game. This could be the biggest blowout of the weekend. The Giants just aren?t ready for the regular season, and that?ll show on Sunday. Hopefully Terrell Owens doesn?t break out too many new dances, because he?ll have plenty of more times this year to show them.

Kansas City at Denver
When these two teams play you know you?re going to get one thing? no defense. It should be another high scoring affair, and we?ll have to see which running back can out duel the other. Both of these teams know that even though it?s week one this game could have a huge outcome on a tie breaker at the end of the season.

Green Bay at Carolina
The Packers are coming in thinking that they are the best team in the NFC, and Carolina is trying to reclaim their title. Both of these teams know they?ll be in the playoffs and it isn?t a question of if. They both want to get bye week?s and playing tough from week one to week seventeen is the only way to do that.