Friday, September 29, 2006

Weighing in on Whitlock/ESPN
Yeah, this is relatively late, but it's still relevant.
Jason Whitlock has annoyed and frustrated me at times, but if he was let go at ESPN specifically because of comments he made about Scoop Jackson and Mike Lupica and the network in general, then that's a problem.
I have banged out quite a few columns about ESPN in recent years, dating back to three years ago in college. At that time, I wrote that I didn't like the direction ESPN was heading in, producing its own movies and own television shows and then having them intersect at times with actual sports programming.
Since then, I've complained about ESPN's self-importance, it's ridiculous "see-me" Sports Center anchors, and its loud presentation.
My prediction: I will never work for ESPN.
That's a shame, because it used to be a goal of mine to work for "The world wide leader in sports." It was while watching a football game on the network in 1992 that I told my dad I wanted to go into sports journalism.
Which brings me to Whitlock.
The Ball State graduate took some shots earlier this week, and (he says) as a result he will no longer be appearing on the network.
As Whitlock said in a recent column:
I wasn’t surprised. ESPN, a terrific network, has always been hypersensitive to criticism, especially when it comes from its independent-contract employees. Over the six years I’ve worked for ESPN, I’ve received complaining phone calls from its executives almost every time I’ve written a critical word about the network.
I would argue criticism, and criticism from within, are powerful tools that make a network stronger. ESPN only gained points with me when it brought in George Solomon, and his columns are a highlight of each month.
ESPN has a right to only keep on loyal and pro-company reporters and columnists. But when things go bad (as they have more and more), a network needs someone to keep it in check.
Doing so would be important for a world wide leader.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

For Gradkowski, it's all about opportunity
With one man's pain comes another's opportunity.
Those of us in Northwest Ohio have been wondering if Buccaneers quarterback and University of Toledo product Bruce Gradkowski would ever get a shot at starting.
The way Chris Simms played the first two weeks, it appeared just a matter of time before Gradkowski got a shot, and especially since the Bucs' only other option was Tim Rattay.Well, it happened, but not the way we wanted — or expected.
Simms has dealt with criticism since his days at Texas, when he was pitted in a quarterback controversy with Major Applewhite.
Some thought his career in college had more to do with his name (his father, former NFL quarterback Phil Simms), than with his abilities.
Those doubts continued into his NFL career. Hall of fame quarterback Steve Young, now a commentator for ESPN, questioned Simms' toughness last season.
Well, I think we can put those concerns away forever.
Any man who plays a football game, leaves because of injury, then returns to lead a comeback in the fourth quarter, is tough.
But to have your spleen removed and need a blood transfusion afterwards? That's John Wayne crazy.
I can write about it lightly now, but hearing about it Sunday night, it was scary. Simms is only 26, and is just in the beginning of not only his career, but his life. While some have downplayed the seriousness of his injuries, it's hard to make a blood transfusion not sound important.
Sometimes I wonder about football analysts questioning a player's toughness, mental or physical. It seems to me just to make it to the NFL requires dedication and a high tolerance for pain. Simms finally proved people wrong, but at what cost?
And it's into this situation Gradkowski walks. He threw for over 2,400 yards for the Rockets last season, but I doubt the national media was even aware of him. It's what happens when you're taken in the sixth round. Like Simms, he will no doubt have his critics. Listed at 6-2, he doesn't have the size of many of his peers. He won't be able to be as daring as he was with Toledo, or even in the preseason, when he had to fight for a roster spot.
If a Mid-American Conference fan wanted to oversimplify things, they could do so by asking if Gradkowski is the next Chad Pennington or Josh Harris.
Harris is out of the league. He had a few opportunities after starring at Bowling Green, but was never given a chance to start. Pennington, the former Marshall quarterback, has proven himself as a very good quarterback.
Gradkowski already has an opportunity Harris was never allowed. That's all those of us in this region can ask for.
Also can be read at

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Panel: Week 4
Aaron Rund
Cleveland over Oakland
Cincinnati over New England
Indianapolis over Jets
Atlanta over Arizona
Miami over Houston

Andy Barch
Cleveland over Oakland
Bengals over Patriots
Indianapolis over the Jets
Miami over Houston
Seattle over Chicago

Joel Hammond (livin' by coin)
Raiders over Browns
Cincinnati over New England
Saints over Panthers
Chicago over Seattle
Buffalo over Minnesota

Nihar Vasavada
Cleveland over Oakland
Cincinnati over New England
St. Louis over Detroit
Eagles over Packers
Dallas over Tennessee

Phil Prusa
Browns over Raiders
Bengals over Patriots
Eagles over Packers
Colts over Jets
Chiefs over 49ers

Vivek Vasavada
Cleveland over Oakland
Cincinnati over St. Louis
Kansas City over San Francisco
New Orleans over Carolina

Curtis A.
Cleveland over Oakland
Cincinnati over New England
Indianapolis over Jets
Ravens over San Diego
Bears over Seattle

Browns over Raiders
Bengals over Patriots
Panthers over Saints
Seahawks over Bears
Buffalo over Minnesota

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Ravens 15, Browns 14
This was better. This was progress. This was frustrating as heck.
Two weeks of bad football were erased with the best half the Browns have played in years. In the first 30 minutes, the Browns defense was aggressive, and the offense showed signs of life. Charlie Frye was unstoppable in the second quarter, and Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow made catches and played like stars.
At halftime, it was 14-3. I talked to two Panel members during the break, and we dared hope a win -- an upset win --was in the team's grasp.
It still was with five minutes to go and the Browns up 14-12. The Browns drove 75 yards and looked to be going in for a game-clinching --oh wait, this is Cleveland --err, game-improving touchdown.
Then Charlie Frye was intercepted in the end zone. What followed was simply a formality. Here are some random thoughts.
* Much better defense against the run. Ted Washington played his best game, and Jamal Lewis was a non-factor for most of the game.
* Derrick Mason was the Ravens' MVP, making several stunning grabs.
* Still no running game to speak of for the Browns.
* I'm still not sure if the Browns are that improved, or if the Ravens are overrated.
* Kellen Winslow continues to be the best thing the Browns have got going right now. He was one broken tackle from a TD in the fourth quarter.
* I think the Browns need to call a veteran QB to back up Charlie Frye. As great as Frye played, he's been running for his life for three weeks, and he can't avoid injury forever. And is anyone else scared at a Ken Dorsey-led offense?
* Good news and bad news. Good news is the Browns play the Raiders next week. Oakland has looked only slightly worse than Houston so far, but it has played two playoff teams. Oh, the bad news: the game comes after the Raiders' bye week. So this is the worst time all season to play them.

The Panel: Week 3
Aaron Rund
Baltimore over Cleveland
Washington over Houston
Carolina over Tampa Bay
Buffalo over New York
Cincinnati over Pittsburgh

Andy Barch (livin' by the coin)
Baltimore over Cleveland
Pittsburgh over Cincinnati
Tampa Bay over Carolina
Buffalo over New York
Denver over New England

Joel Hammond
Ravens over Browns
Bengals over Cincinnati
Minnesota over Chicago
Giants over Seattle
Indianapolis over Jacksonville

Nihar Vasavada
Baltimore over Cleveland
Cincinnati over Pittsburgh
Washington over Houston
Philadelphia over San Francisco
Miami over Tennessee

Phil Prusa
Ravens over Browns
Bengals over Steelers
Eagles over 49ers
Bears over Vikings
Dolphins over Titans

Vivek Vasavada
Baltimore over Cleveland
Pittsburgh over Cincinnati
Washington over Houston
Philadelphia over San Francisco
Arizona over St. Louis

Curtis A.
Ravens over Browns
Bengals over Steelers
Indianapolis over Jacksonville
Falcons over Saints
Carolina over Tampa Bay

Baltimore over Cleveland
Cincinnati over Pittsburgh
Carolina over Tampa Bay
Buffalo over New York
New England over Denver

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Panel: Week 2 Standings
Joel Hammond 5-0 (10-0)
Vivek Vasavada 5-0 (9-1)
Nihar Vasavada 4-1 (8-2)
Curtis A. 4-1 (7-3)
Phil Prusa 5-0 (7-3)
Andy Barch 4-1 (6-4)
Zach 2-3 (6-4)
Aaron Rund 5-0 (5-5)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hugo Chavez and where we're going
Why is everyone so surprised when a glorified thug steps on American soil and calls the President of the United States the devil?
It's nothing we haven't seen or heard before, on the streets of our cities and within the eye of a protest.
Americans have been saying it all the time, but when a Venezuelan dictator says it, well, now, the president's oppisition is annoyed.
I applaud Nancy Pelosi and Charles Rangel for standing up against Chavez (where's everybody else, though?).
My concern however is what hasn't been said. Chavez could have gotten his speech from, and if the speech had been delivered by a member of that establishment, would the senators have blinked?
I suppose there's an argument that only Americans can bash Bush in America, and I can see that -- to a point.
But these comments are just as destructive. I'm told we, as Americans, are hated all over the world because of the president's policies. But when Americans themselves march holding signs with swastikas, the Democratic senators appear content to let that go.
(Free speech is free speech, but shouldn't some Democrats distance themselves from that? Some, like Joe Lieberman, have, but when Michael Moore has a booth at the convention, there's a problem).
What does that say to the rest of the world? When half the country's leadership refuses to stand up and say, "Bush is not a Nazi, Bush is not an evil man," why would some in the world believe any differently?
I am happy the senators rebutted Chavez's remarks. I just wonder where the defense has been for the last three years.

Monday, September 18, 2006

And the winner for the stupidest comment of the year by an NFL player goes to ...
Roy Williams. He gave Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom this gem:

"Shouldn't poses like that wait until things are looking better?" I asked Williams after the game.
"I celebrate first downs all the time. I'm not gonna stop that. I'm an exciting player. If I do something exciting, I'm gonna show my actions."
"But you were losing, 10-0."
"What does that mean? ... That means nothing to me. The score means nothing."

I'd like to see somebody try and top that. I'm sure Mr. Owens is working on something right now.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Bengals 34, Browns 17
I can assure there was no misprint. I took the Browns to win, because I just had a feeling. Erik apparently felt the same way.
But I forgot the biggest issue when predicting games: The best team usually wins.
The Browns are not as good as Cincinnati, and no offseason move could have changed that.
You will hear the phrase "work in progress" more than a few times. And, being that its Cleveland, it's easy to scoff.
But the Browns are getting better. Fans will just have to accept that the process will be slow.
Romeo Crennel will promise no quick fix, nor should he. The last quix fix came in 2002, and the team is still paying for it.
Here are my observations from Sunday's loss.
* Better pass rush this week, and Kamerion Wimbley looks like a superstar in the making.
* We need to see more of Kellen Winslow in the offense. Let's be honest -- we sometimes laugh at what he does or says, but he has been the team's most consistent receiver through two weeks. And I pity the tacklers. He needs to be the primary weapon on offense.
* Braylon Edwards dropped at least three key passes. He caught the long pass, but it's easy to forget that he is in many ways still a rookie. Despite his ability and attitude, he's still going to have lapses.
* The play-calling was again atrocious. But dropped passes and missed reads make offensive coordinators look like idiots.
* Someone complained when I ranked Carson Palmer in just the top five when ranking the league's quarterbacks. Sorry. He may be the second best quarterback, but is certainly no lower than third. Tom Brady may be better, but he won't be for long.
* The defense was not great, but it can't be against the Bengals, who have way too many weapons.
* CBS color man Solomon Wilcots said "pick your poison" about 12 times in the first half. Annoying.
* Charlie Frye will be fine.

Friday, September 15, 2006

And the dispute continues
Here's a message to Time Warner Cable: You are not protecting me by putting the NFL Network on a sports tier for $120 a year. You are hindering football fans.
I'd rather pay eight dollars a year to get the network on my basic package. I could care less about the European sports channels that would go along with the tier.
I am sure the NFL is not a saint in this battle. But given a choice between the two, I'll side with the NFL.
I can't afford a $120-a year sports package. Make a deal, and fast. Or else I might just call a dish network.
And if you think there aren't many football fans in the Cleveland area, you will be sadly mistaken.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Whitlock responds
From Jason Whitlock's column on
I was wrong about Texas whipping the Buckeyes by two touchdowns. I put my foot in my mouth on "PTI" when I stated I was 99.9 percent sure the Longhorns would beat Ohio State. So I dropped West Virginia to No. 2 in my AP football poll vote and elevated Ohio State to No. 1 based on the Buckeyes' impressive victory.

Jason's not my favorite columnist in the world (he plays the race card way too much), but I'll give him credit for standing up and admitting his pick was wrong. In retrospect, perhaps I should not have come down on him about not writing about his error sooner, since his column is a weekly one.
So while I just shake my head at the suggestion Jack Del Rio keeps three black quarterbacks on the Jaguars roster to keep racist pressure off Byron Leftwich, I can at least compliment Whitlock for stepping up.

The Panel: Week II
Aaron Rund
Cincinnati over Cleveland
Indianapolis over Houston
Baltimore over Oakland
New Orleans over Green Bay
Chicago over Detroit

Andy Barch
Bengals over Browns
Vikings over Panthers
Broncos over Chiefs
Miami over Buffalo
Dallas over Washington

Joel Hammond
Cincinnati over Cleveland
Chicago over Detroit
New Orleans over Green Bay
Baltimore over Oakland
Indianapolis over Houston

Nihar Vasavada
Cincinnati over Cleveland
New England over the Jets
Chicago over Detrot
St. Louis over San Francisco
San Diego over Tennessee

Phil Prusa
Bengals over Browns
Chargers over Titans
Ravens over Raiders
Colts over Titans
Broncos over Chiefs

Vivek Vasavada
Bengals over Browns
Colts over Texans
Ravens over Raiders
Bears over Lions
Cowboys over Redskins

Curtis A.
Bengals over Browns
Seahawks over Cardinals
Eagles over Giants
Jaguars over Steelers
Ravens over Raiders

Browns over Bengals
Vikings over Panthers
Broncos over Chiefs
Miami over Buffalo
Washington over Dallas

Putting sports, and writing, in perspective
For the last several days, I have been trying to think of a way to frame 9-11 remembrances in a sports context.
But it does not really work.
It's hard for me to accept that players getting on a field are in any way as brave as a soldier, a firefighter, or police officer.
There is no reason to believe sports are that important in the discussion of the 9-11 attacks. Yes, sports were canceled for a week afterwards, a decision that I think was the best for all involved.
When sports came back, it was put in proper perspective. It has been said sports, whether it be the New York Yankees in the World Series, or the Giants playing on Sunday, provided a chance for America to get back to normal after the horrible tragedy.
Five years later, I wonder if the perspective still exists.
I was not a sportswriter in 2001, so I never wrote an article before 9-11. When writing sports, I always try to avoid words like "battle," "war" or "tragedy." America is fighting two wars, and is losing brave men and women every day. I think that, for the most part, other sports writers and broadcasters do the same.
In that sense, September 11 changed sports. Most of us try to keep things in perspective.
But sometimes, that perspective is lost.
I do think sometimes we put too much stock in athletics. I wonder, when I see fans celebrating wildly in a stadium, why we are what we are.
Will we see mass celebrations if (or hopefully, when) Osama Bin Laden is captured?
I don't know, and I don't pose the question to be critical. When the terrorist is brought down, there probably shouldn't be wild celebrations. It wouldn't fit or be right in the face of what the man has wrought.
But in a world where we hear more about Terrell Owens then the war on some days, it does make me wonder.
What have I learned since September 11, 2001?
I have learned athletes (with the exception of the Tillman brothers and others who are serving or have served) are not heroes. Heroics are performed many places in this country. A gridiron and baseball diamond are no such places.
I have learned that what I do for a living is rather trivial. While I spend my days typing out clever ledes on my computer, some of my peers are just trying to stay safe while covering the violence in other parts of the world.
And I have learned I should be thankful to the troops, the firefighters, and the police officers that allow me to continue doing what I love. Without their sacrifices, my life would not be possible.
Thanks to them. We all owe you a lot.
Also can be read at

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Panel: Week One Results
This is so much easier this year.
The Results
Joel Hammond: 5-0
Nihar Vasavada: 4-1
Vivek Vasavada: 4-1
Zach: 4-1
Curtis A.: 3-2
Phil Prusa: 2-3
Andy Barch: 2-3
Aaron Rund: 0-5
Coin 3-2

Air America files for bankruptcy
There's a part of me that wants to quote the Simpsons and say "we are richer for having lost them."
But at the same time, I am sure some good people will lose their jobs, and I don't want to see that happen.
In the end, Air America will be seen as an idea that, strangely enough, didn't fly.
Whether it was the politics, or a very bizarre (and in some cases ethically questionable) business plan that did it in will be debated.
And so the world turns.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Where's Whitlock?
I keep waiting for ESPN's Jason Whitlock to eat some crow after this gem: I fully expect Texas to slap the (spit) out of Ohio State this weekend, especially now that Jim Tressel doesn't have the guts to admit he voted his own team No. 1.
Northern Illinois moved the football on Ohio State last week. And I'm supposed to believe Texas is going to have a problem scoring points? No sir. Texas wins by two touchdowns.

So, where's the explanation? What happened? It's been three days. This always happens. ESPN guys (Whitlock, Trev Alberts) doubt Ohio State, then are nowhere to be found when OSU proves them wrong.
Whenever I doubt OSU (and I did most of the 2002 season), I come out and happily accept responsibility for my error. Will Whitlock do the same? We're waiting.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9-11, 2001
Never forget.

Saints 19, Browns 14
The headline I would use: "Welcome to the Ugly."
* There were times in the first half when I longed for the consistency of Chris Palmer's Browns. Two sacks on the opening possession sure set the tone for this mess.
* Where was Rueben Droughns today?
* Charlie Frye really made only one awful pass. But it was costly.
* Kellen Winslow looked so good today, but I want to see the Browns go down field. Why do they run so many slants and screens?
* In the interest of being positive, I'd like to note that the last time the Browns lost to the Saints in week one, they went 10-5 and made it to the AFC Championship game.
* If I were Romeo Crennel, I'd be on the phone with a veteran backup quarterback right now. The reason: If the offensive line plays like this again, Frye will be out by the second quarter.
* Up next is Cincinnati, in Cincinnati. The Browns will be lucky to get out with a 20-point loss.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Panel: Year Three: "Back in Training"
Welcome to the third season of the Panel. This means The Panel has been more successful than:
* Akili Smith's NFL career as a starter
* Steve Spurrier as an NFL coach
* Jason Alexander's many non-Seinfeld sitcoms
Anyway, let's meet the group. I'm proud to say that unlike most sequels, the entire, original cast has signed on for a third installment. I thought about inviting Omar Epps to play the Willie Mays Hayes character, but passed on that.

The Panel
Aaron Rund: "Mr. Rund goes with Washington" may be heard a few times this year.
Andy "Bull" Barch: I guess "Bull" has stuck. Bull in broadcasting? Just ask Dan Rather.
Joel Hammond: Has joined the majority of us in Ohio.
Nihar Vasavada: Is a real Doctor
Phil Prusa: Standing on a corner in Tempe Arizona
Vivek Vasavada: Not a real doctor
Curtis A.: Akron's own.
Zach: I ... am a writer

Nihar Vasavada
Cleveland over New Orleans
Cincinnati over Kansas City
Seattle over Detroit
Chicago over Green Bay
Philadelphia over Houston

Vivek Vasavada
Browns over Saints
Bengals over Chiefs
Eagles over Texans
Seahawks over Lions
Cards over 49ers

Phil Prusa
Cleveland over New Orleans
Kansas City over Cincinnati
Denver over St. Louis
Philadelphia over Houston
New England over Buffalo

Aaron Rund
Cleveland over New Orleans
Kansas City over Cincinnati
Washington over Minnesota
Tampa Bay over Baltimore
Denver over St. Louis

Joel Hammond
Cincy over KC
New Orleans over Cleveland
SD over Oakland
Arizona over SF
New England over Buffalo

Andy Barch
Cleveland over New Orleans
Cincinnati over Kansas City
Arizona over San Francisco
Dallas over Jacksonville
Buffalo over New England

Curtis A.
Dolphins over Steelers
Browns over Saints
Bengals over Chiefs
Colts over Giants
Patriots over Bills

New Orleans over Cleveland
Kansas City over Cincinnati
Jacksonville over Dallas
New England over Buffalo
Arizona over San Francisco

New Orleans over Cleveland
Cincinnati over Kansas City
Dallas over Jacksonville
New England over Buffalo
San Francisco over Arizona

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Steelers a healthy pick in AFC
Everything appeared to align just right for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2005 postseason.
Hitting their stride at just the right time, the Steelers, a Wild Card team, upset Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Denver on their way to the Super Bowl.
Then the Steelers beat Seattle for the franchise's fifth Super Bowl championship.
So, the question is this: was the Steelers' run last year the result of the stars aligning, or was it the beginning of a dynasty?
One thing is for sure: the Steelers' offseason did not go as smoothly as the playoffs. There were expected losses for Pittsburgh. Jerome Bettis retired and wide receiver Antwaan Randle El split for Washington.
But some things were unforeseen. The selection of Ohio State wide receiver Santonio Holmes in the draft looked like a perfect move. Until Holmes forgot the Steelers — not the Bengals — drafted him. He was arrested twice in the offseason.
Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has had an even more trying couple of months. It started in June, when he was in a motorcycle accident in Pittsburgh. The third-year quarterback was not wearing a helmet, and had to undergo seven hours of surgery for facial injuries.
Roethlisberger said afterwards he was lucky to survive. With that in mind, it was rather amazing he played in the preseason, and appeared ready for the Steelers' regular season.
That was until earlier this week, when Roethlisberger had an emergency appendectomy. The quarterback will miss at least the season opener tonight against the Dolphins.
Then, there is Bill Cowher. The Steelers' probably thought Jerome Bettis' retirement meant it would be the last time they heard from him, except on holidays and team reunions.
But Bettis, now an analyst at NBC, made a grand debut for the network when he said he believed Cowher was in his final year with the team. This appeared to upset Cowher, but the fact remains the coach is in the final year of his contract with the Steelers, and he has put off discussions about an extension.
No one can know what effect all the offseason issues will have on the Super Bowl champions. And no, their 0-4 preseason is not significant.
But the Steelers open the season tonight against Miami with journeyman Charlie Batch under center. While that may appear to be a problem, one thing is for sure: Batch will have time to throw, and running back Willie Parker will have holes to run through.
That's because Pittsburgh boasts one of the strongest offensive lines in the league, with all of its starters back from last season. With a line that includes Marvel Smith, Alan Faneca, Kendall Simmons, and Max Starks, the Steelers will not have any problems — unless injuries strike.
If Roethlisberger is able to play as he's capable, there may not be much dropoff in the Steelers' offense. Parker, an undrafted rookie, rushed for 1,200 yards in 2006. And Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward is back.
The defense appears just as strong as last season with standouts in every area of the defense. Joey Porter returns at linebacker, Troy Polamalu at strong safety, and Casey Hampton at nose tackle.
The lineup on both sides of the ball is enough to believe that, if healthy, the Steelers will win the AFC North (something they failed to do last season) and compete for the conference title.
The Steelers are my pick in the AFC, based on strength and depth. But there is an asterisk next to that pick.
If Roethlisberger is out for any significant period of time, I don't see Pittsburgh making the Super Bowl, or winning the division. Batch was 2-0 as a starter last season. But one of those starts came against the Browns.
But if Big Ben is healthy, look out.
Also can be read at

Monday, September 04, 2006

Phil's NFL Preview
For the third consecutive year, Panel member Phil Prusa has written a preview of the NFL season, which begins Thursday.
For the record, I'm taking Carolina in the NFC and Pittsburgh in the AFC. Phil has went on record as saying he'd be shocked if the Steelers make it to the AFC Championship game. So noted.

* - Wildcard
1. Patriots (11-5)
Even with free agent losses, New England is still the best in this division.
2. Dolphins (9-7) *
The jury is out on Daunte Culpepper, but provided he doesn't implode like last year, the Dolphins have a realistic shot at the postseason even if they won't have the services of Ricky WIlliams.
3. Bills (6-10)
It's going to be Willis McGahee and not much more. JP Losman finally gets a chance to open the season as the starter, but won't have much of team to work with.
4. Jets (4-12)
You have to feel for rookie head coach Eric Mangini. He's clearly going into the worst situation of all the new head coaches this year.

Divisional Note: In the NFL as it is set up now, it is amazing that New England has had a strong a hold each year taking the divisional title.
1. Steelers (10-6)
Season may depend on the health of Ben Roethlisberger.
2. Bengals (8-8)
A much harder schedule and offseason distractions are not a good mix for the defending AFC Champions.
3. Ravens (7-9)
Sorry, but I'm not comfortable with a 33 year old, injury prone Steve McNair as the starting quarterback.
4. Browns (6-10)
Went through one of the most bizarre situations at center before finally winding up with Hank Fraley. Quarterback position is paper thin after Charlie Frye.
Divisional Note: Every team has question marks regarding the QB position.
1. Colts (12-4)
Manning and company have no issues getting to the playoffs. One of the more complete teams in the NFL this year.
Jaguars (8-8)
Jacksonville made the postseason last year on the strength of a powder puff schedule. They won't have that advantage in 2006
Titans (7-9)
They went three years before finally going with Steve McNair as the starting QB. It will be interesting to see how long they wait before Vince Young gets his shot.
Texans (5-11)
With Dominic Davis gone for the year on injured reserve, the Texans running game is a mess. Let the second guessing of passing Reggie Bush begin.
Divisional Note:
Indy will dominate this division. Not much more to really get excited about.
1. Broncos (11-5)
This squad could be even better than last year's team with the addition of Javon Walker. Will have motivation this year after losing the AFC Championship game at home.
2. Chiefs (9-7) *
Can score points in bunches, but the offense is getting older and the defense always remains a question mark.
3. Chargers (8-8)
Time to see what Philip Rivers can do as the starting QB. Was going to put San Diego as the Wildcard team hear, but then linebacker Steve Foley gets shot 3 times and his status is in doubt.
4. Raiders (4-12)
Aaron Brooks as the starting QB is about as comfortable as me trying to wear a medium sized t-shirt.
Divisional Note: Except Oakland, this should be a wide open race for at least the first half of the season.

1. Cowboys (10-6)
The defense will do Parcells proud. One possible hitch in the season in the ongoing Terrell Owens saga.
2. Eagles (10-6) *
McNabb is healthy and the off-field distractions should be low this year. Philadelphia could contend for the NFC East title this year.
3. Giants (9-7)*
Eli Manning needs to play like he did in early 2005 and not like he did in late 2005.
4. Redskins (8-8)
I know preseason doesn't mean anything, but Washington looked terrible in their practice games this year.
Divisional Note: From top to bottom, this should be the most competitive division this year.
1. Bears (9-7)
Bad: The Bears have a quarterback controversy. Worse: The Bears also have a running back controversy. Will be leaning on their defense this year.
2. Lions (8-8)
Give Mike Martz a year as offensive coordinator and the Lions may be contending for the NFC North.
3. Vikings (6-10)
With rookie Chad Greenway lost for the season on injury and Koren Robinson cut with his off field troubles, Minnesota may have had the worst offseason on any team this year.
4. Packers (4-12)
By midseason. Brett Farve will have to be asking himself why he ever bothered to come back for this season.
Divisional Note: Regardless who wins this division, I can't see the team going very far in the post season.
1. Panthers (11-5)
Should be a favorite to go to the Super Bowl this year. Will need a healthy Steve Smith though.
2. Buccaneers (9-7)
The strong point of this team is their defense and they went virtually injury-free last year. Odds of that happening two years in a row for a aging squad is not good.
3. Falcons (8-8)
Michael Vick remains the biggest enigma in the NFL. When he's good, he's almost unbeatable. But when he's bad, he takes the team down with him.
4. Saints (5-11)
Reggie Bush gives the fans something to look forward to for the upcoming years. Too many holes this season though to seriously contend
Divisional Note: While I don't have any Wildcard teams in this division, Tampa Bay and Atlanta should be in the running for a postseason spot.
1. Seahawks (12-4)
Should be able to go 6-0 or 5-1 in this division. Anything less would be a disappointment.
2. Cardinals (8-8)
They have the playmakers on offense, but have too many questions on the offensive line and defense to contend this year.
3. Rams (6-10)
The Rams defense was bad last year and did little to improve it for 2006. The offense won't have the same punch it had from years past.
4. 49ers (3-13)
Just nothing to get excited about in the Bay this year. I don't think Alex Smith is a bad QB, but he has virtually nothing to work with.
Divisional Note: Seattle should have this division wrapped up by Week 13 or so.


Time for all this offensive talent to step up and win the big one.

An objective look at the 2006 Baltimore Ravens
It has been my general policy, since the 1996 season, not to judge the Baltimore Ravens objectively. I won’t bore you with the details as to why that is (I was born in Cleveland, draw your own conclusions).
When Baltimore won the Super Bowl in 2000, it felt like a kick in the stomach. It proved to me, once again, there is no fairness in sports. But time has passed. Only one 1990s Brown remains on the roster. Art Modell is gone from the game, and the man running the Ravens is a Cleveland legend – Ozzie Newsome.
Yes, 10 years is enough.
The Ravens really struggled at times last season. Their never ending saga of underachieving quarterbacks, a banged up and aging defense, and two great teams in the AFC North combined to keep Baltimore out of the playoffs and in general disarray.
Can Baltimore respond this year? Coach Brian Billick has to hope so. Another 6-10 season might mean the end of his honeymoon with Baltimore.
But the Ravens, like just about every other NFL team (save maybe the Texans), have reason for optimism.
The first thing that jumps out is the Ravens will no longer be depending on Kyle Boller at quarterback. The Ravens have struggled to fill the position ever since the 2000 season, when they sent Trent Dilfer packing.
Steve McNair will start for Baltimore. I’ve long been a fan of McNair. Last season, he almost single-handedly willed Tennessee to a win over the Browns in a game I attended. It just confirmed what I have always believed, that McNair has as much guts as talent.
And though McNair is no longer the multi-dimensional quarterback he once was (his days of rushing for over 600 yards in a season are long gone), only a fool would believe he is done. McNair’s last two seasons have been unimpressive by his standards, but he’s 33 and likely has a few years left. With Jamal Lewis back and Todd Heap returning, the Baltimore offense could actually be good. There are questions about the offensive line, but there’s enough to be positive on the offensive side.
Everyone talks about Baltimore’s defense, but lately, it has struck me as undeserved praise. The Ravens gave up 35 points to the Lions last season for god’s sake. Ray Lewis has played all 16 games only once in the last four years. In two of those four seasons, he played no more than six. He missed the last two months of the season in 2005 with a hamstring injury. At 31, you at least have to consider he may not be the dominant force he was in the early part of the decade. There are no such questions about safety Ed Reed, and the Ravens did shore up the D-line by drafting Haloti Ngata.
But the Ravens have another problem no draft, or free agent signing could help: the schedule.
Playing in the AFC North, the Ravens will see Cincinnati and Pittsburgh twice. Even if they are improved, the Ravens will certainly have a problem with those teams. Also, keep in mind the Ravens have swept a series from the Browns only once since 2001. Even the non-division schedule is tough, with Baltimore opening in Tampa Bay, and making trips to Denver and Kansas City.
Good luck with that.
I don’t see Baltimore in the playoffs this year, though their chances are improved. Whether that’s enough to keep Billick’s seat cool is anyone’s guess.
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Friday, September 01, 2006

Quick Notes
-If the Browns haven't contacted a veteran quarterback to backup Charlie Frye, they should. Maybe Kelly Holcomb is available? What? Sorry I brought it up.
- The Steelers went 0-4 in the preseason. Hey, I love to watch the Steelers lose, but lets face it: The preseason is meaningless.
-ESPN's Mike Greenberg suggested giving Travis Hafner the MVP award, if the award was just based on numbers. Can't argue with that, although I can't justify giving the award to a DH.
-The Reds have lost six in a row. They are still just 1.5 games out, but I just don't see them coming back one more time.