You been playing the foose-ball?!

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Our thoughts and prayers, as always with the Katrina victims. Perhaps this column can serve as a pleasant diversion.

To celebrate my return to the houseflies, I’m offering employee pricing to everyone. If you can find a better on-line sports blog, buy it!

NFL Preview

I follow football significantly less than baseball, but I still keep a pretty close eye on it. Also, with the topsy-turvy nature of the NFL, it’s hard to know who’ll do what from one year to the next. That being said, here are my best guesses.

AFC North

1. Pittsburgh Steelers — The Steelers will again key off their running game and defense to make things easier for QB Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben lost his favorite target in Plaxico Burress, but Hines Ward is still around, and Antwan Randle-El should slide nicely into the #2 receiver slot. The defense was the best in football last year and didn’t lose any key parts, so look for a repeat by the team from the steel city
2. Baltimore Ravens — The Ravens defense, led by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, rivals the Steelers, and their running game should punish opponents this year. That was enough for them to win the Super Bowl a few years back, but they insist on getting production out of Kyle Boller. For about three years now, this has been the year that Boller is going to break out. However, his receivers are still pretty pedestrian, and my bet is he’s not going to give Baltimore enough to overtake Pittsburgh.
3. Cincinnati Bengals — With a few breaks, the Bengals could finish second and contend for a wildcard berth. Their offense is potent; Rudi Johnson is a durable franchise back, and Carson Palmer should find Chad Johnson regularly. The questions come on defense, where the talent is thin. Coach Marvin Lewis should be able to maximize the talent he has, but there’s probably just not enough there to get them to the playoffs.
4. Cleveland Browns — The Browns took a step in the right direction by purging itself of Butch Davis and bringing in Romeo Crennell to run things. As an indicator of how disastrous the Davis era was, his first three first-round picks, Tim Couch, Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren, are all off the team, Couch being out of footbal. Crennell commands instant respect, but it will take a few years to restock the bare cupboards. Rookie WR Braylon Edwards may provide some excitement in an otherwise long season.

AFC East1. New England Patriots — It’s tempting to pick the Pats to fall this year, what with Romeo Crennell and Charley Wiess and Ty Law leaving and Tedy Bruschi hurt. However, they still have Belichick and Brady and that wonderful system that wins with or without frontline running backs and wide receivers or with their wide receivers playing cornerback. They’re just smarter than everyone else, and I think that’ll be enough to win the east again.
2. New York Jets — I like this team a lot. If they can get off to a decent start this year, they should cruise to a playoff spot. They added Ty Law to an already solid defense, and Lavernues Coles comes home to a healthy Chad Pennington. The one concern is Curtis Martin’s age, and now there’s no Lamont Jordan as an insurance policy.
3. Buffalo Bills — The Bills are a team you want to like. They’re defense is absolutely suffocating, and their running game should be explosive with Willis McGahee. Yet, I’m not sold on J.P. Lohsman at QB. The young guy will probably make just enough mistakes to keep this team around 7 or 8 wins.
4. Miami Dolphins — Yikes. Well, Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor are still around, so the defense will probably be okay for the fish. The running game will probably be all right as well, especially once Ricky gets back and in shape to complement Ronnie Brown. However, all that will matter very little if they actually expect to go through a full season with A. J. Feely or Gus Frerotte as their quarterback.
AFC South

1. Indianapolis Colts — Probably the clearest choice of any of the division winners. Probably their best chance to get past New England to the Super Bowl. Marcus Pollard’s the only loss from last year’s ridiculous offense, and Dallas Clark should step in nicely to make up for his production. With Corey Simon clogging the middle on defense, there should be more freedom for pass-rushing banshees Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. 13 wins minimum.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars — Very talented team. Fred Taylor is an elite back when healthy, and Byron Leftwich is an emerging young quarterback. I am completely on the edge of my seat to see what they do with Matt Jones; you have to take about five shots down the field with this guy every game. Defense is solid; anchored by huge tackes John Henderson and Marcus Stroud. Could be a playoff team if they can solve the mystery of the Texans.
3. Houston Texans — Very similar to Jacksonville; talented, but you don’t know what you’ll get from week to week. This is the year they find out what they have in David Carr and Dominick Davis; are they players that can lead this team deep into the playoffs in coming years. One player there’s no doubt about is Andre Johnson; who could be the best receiver in football in a few years.
4. Tennesse Titans — They cut about 10 guys in salary cap purges, so they’re thin at a lot of positions. Running game should be good with Chris Brown and Travis Henry. Steve McNair’s health is a concern, but not too much with capable backup Billy Volek waiting in the wings. What’s more pressing is whether Drew Bennett can perform as the number one receiving option.

AFC West1. Kansas City Chiefs — This is the closest division in the NFL and any of the four could win it. I pick the Chiefs because I think they’re defense will be passable and that should be enough to let their offense win games. Rookie Derrick Johnson looks terrific, and Patrick Surtain will help shore up what has been a dreadful defensive unit. The offensive line is still the best in football, and Priest Holmes and Tony Gonzalez will score a ton for them.
2. San Diego Chargers — Do you trust Drew Brees to perform like that again? Will the defense overachieve a second straight year? These questions keep me from picking the Chargers to win. What you can expect are huge years from Ladanian Tomlinson, the best running back in the game, and Antonio Gates, who is passing Gonzalez and Shockey to be the league’s best tight end. 3. Denver Broncos — Probably should win the division every year, but they seem to find a way to lose when it counts the most. Jake Plummer will throw for about 4,000 yards and 20 or so interceptions. Mike Anderson or whoever will have 1,500 yards. And they might sneak out a wildcard birth and get pounded by the Colts again. By the way, strangest move of the offseason? Denver picking up Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren from the Browns, where they did nothing but stink.
4. Oakland Raiders — This is a very sexy-looking team; Lamont Jordan at running back to go with Moss and Porter at wideout. Warren Sapp and Charles Woodson on defense. Should be fun to watch, but with a high self-destruction factor. I’ve never had much faith in Kerry Collins, and I don’t think Norv Turner’s a strong enough personality to reign in all the egos.
NFC North

1. Minnesota Vikings — Will the Vikings be better without Randy Moss? Seems ridiculous, but I think they will play closer to their talent level this year. They’ve been the most talented team in the division for a few years now, but always find ways to lose out to Green Bay. They should be a little better on defense, and that will probably be enough to win this division.
2. Green Bay Packers — Does father time finally catch up to Brett this year? He showed signs of being erratic last season, throwing a lot of picks. Combined with Ahman Green’s penchant for fumbling, they’ve got a big turnover problem. Also, they were just dreadful on defense, particularly in the secondary where Ahmad Carroll is not representing the Hogs too well.
3. Detroit Lions — Joey Harrington, David Carr, Byron Leftwich; which would you take out of the lot? I might go Leftwich, but I’m happy with Carr. Harrington probably sits on the hottest seat, having three exceptional young receivers to pass to, but he’s also been the most inconsistent . This team should be fun, but mistakes will keep them around 6 or 7 wins.
4. Chicago Bears — Does any team have worse luck? God bless Rex Grossman, who will lose another season to injury; rookie Kyle Orton starts in his place. Should run okay with enigmatic Thomas Jones and rookie Ced Benson. However, defense is where they’ll really shine, with a solid unit led by Urlacher and safety Mike Brown.

NFC East

1. Philadelphia Eagles — Along with the Patriots, the Eagles prove that system is what matters in the NFL. With or without TO, they should have no problem rolling to another division title. They have a great defense, especially their secondary which may be the best in football. McNabb’s gotten by with subpar receivers most of his career; he an Bryant Westbrook should be enough to win the East; TO’s just gravy until they get to the playoffs.
2. Dallas Cowboys — Should be much better with a full year of Julius Jones and Drew Bledsoe stepping in for the ancient Vinny Testaverde. Jason Whitten is an emerging talent at tight end, and Bill Parcells will make due with their wide receivers. DeMarcus Ware will challenge Derrick Johnson for defensive rookie of the year. Drew Henson; the rare athlete who gets to be a complete bust in two sports.
3. New York Giants — As Eli goes, so will go the Giants. The offensive line was truly offensive last year; they’ll have to do a better job in pass protection for the Giants to win much. Eli will have more tools to work with, the Giants having added Plaxico Burress and hopefully having a healthy Jeremy Shockey all year. Tiki Barber is coming off a monster year, but is old by running back standards. How much is left in the tank?
4. Washington Redskins — This team has the pretty good talent to go with a hall of fame coach, but somehow the total is less than the sum of the parts. Patrick Ramsey would probably be pretty good if they just let him work, but after fighting against every ex-Gator quarterback around under Spurrier and backing up the atrocious Mark Brunnell last year, you can’t blame him if his confidence is shot. Can they get more touchdowns out of Clinton Portis? Will Shawn Taylor stay out of trouble enough to become the best safety in football? Don’t bet on it.

NFC South

1. Atlanta Falcons — Will Michael Jenkins emerge as the go-to threat Peerless Price never became? Will T.J. Duckett replace Warrick Dunn as the main running threat? None of that really matters; all that matters in Atlanta is number 7. Put him in a West Coast offense or a vertical attack; let him run or rein him in; it doesn’t really matter. Michael Vick will probably never put up the passing stats of a Daunte Culpepper, but once again he’ll be playing later into January.
2. Carolina Panthers — Nearly made the playoffs last year after a dreadful start; should rebound nicely this year if they can stay healthy. Their defensive front four is absolutely devastating, led by Julius Peppers who will shortly replace Ray Lewis as the best defensive player in football. Running game is also very potent with Steven Davis and Deshawn Foster, and Jake Delhomme is one of the great leaders in football. Should push for a playoff spot.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Was it only three years ago that the Bucs were hoisting the Super Bowl trophy and people were talking about John “four hours of sleep” Gruden as the next Bill Walsh? How times have changed. Gruden has been burdened with “total control” in Tampa, the holy grail that every coach dreams of only to find it filled with poison. Really nothing about this team to get excited about.
4. New Orleantonio Saints — The Saints are a team that grossly underachieves under the best of circumstances, and now they are being asked to play in absolutely impossible ones. Of course, there’s a chance this could galvanize them like nothing else could, but my guess is they will suffer through a long, distracted season. Best of wishes on their long road.

NFC West

1. St. Louis Rams — Mike Martz will scheme and plot and try his best to cause this team to self destruct, but, in the end, I think they have too much talent to not win this division. Stephen Jackson is a major talent who should step ably into Marshall Faulk’s shoes, and Kevin Curtis has emerged as their first legitimate 3rd wide receiver since they lost Az-Zahir Hakim. Their defense is uninspiring, but they can probably hold enough teams under 30 to win the weak west.
2. Seattle Seahawks — Another team that grossly underachieves on a yearly basis. Will the wideouts keep putting it on the ground? Matt Hasselbeck is a very nice quarterback, but no one seems to interested in holding on to his passes. Shaun Alexander is one of the three or four best running backs around and may finally get his rushing title this year.
3. Arizona Cardinals — It’s suddenly become sexy to pick the Cardinals to win the NFC West, but it’s going to take a little more than Denny Green to overcome decades of bad karma. I want more than anyone for Kurt Warner to go back to the days when he was the best story in sports, but I think he’ll be a lot closer to Giants Warner than MVP Warner. Bouldin and Fitzgerald are a dynamic receiving tandem, but people have anointed J.J. Arrington a great runner before he’s really done anything. Forgive me if I remain skeptical.
4. San Fransisco 49ers — The worst team in football; bar none. No one else is really even close to as bad as the Niners. Julian Peterson’s a nice player, but that’s about it. Truly sad to see what was the best franchise in sports being completely run into the ground. Where have you gone, Joe Montana-o? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Whoo-whoo-whoo.

Alma Mater, Hail

If you were to put together an NFL team comprised of alumni of one college, who would have the best team? You can come at this a few different ways. The Miami Hurricanes have produced the most elite players in recent years:

Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Shawn Taylor, Santana Moss, Andre Johnson, Jeremy Shockey, Bryant McKinney, Jonathan Vilma, Warren Sapp, et. al.

Texas can also boast a number of Pro Bowl-types. (Priest Holmes, Roy Williams, Ricky Williams, etc.). The problem with these teams is twofold; no depth and no quarterback. You could play Ken Dorsey and Chris Simms, but would you want to?

The deepest teams are mostly Big 10 and SEC schools, with the addition of Nebraska and Florida State. The elite Big 10 programs (Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa, and, oh yeah, I was counting Notre Dame as a Big 10 school) and SEC programs (Tennesse, Florida, Georgia, Auburn, LSU [not Alabama, by the way]) all have about 25-40 alumni in the NFL. Florida State had the most I found with 43. Oh yeah, and North Carolina has about 30, strangely enough. I guess Mack Brown really can recruit.

So which team would win the most? To me the question boils down to one position — quarterback. You could win some games with Brad Johnson tossing it around on a Florida State squad. Warrick Dunn could run for you and Lavernues Coles can catch passes. I suppose Deion Sanders could still cover some guys. But if your seriously putting a team together it’s got to be either Tennessee or Michigan, because they’re the only colleges to produce elite quarterbacks that also have enough other players to field a good squad. Here’s your respective teams.

Michigan Tennessee
QB Tom Brady Peyton Manning
RB Anthony Thomas/ Jamal Lewis/
Chris Perry Travis Henry
FB ? ?
OL Jon Jansen Chad Clifton
Jon Runyan Cosey Coleman
Jeff Backus Trey Teague
David Baas Anthony Herrerra
Jonathan Goodwin Fred Weary
TE Jerame Tuman Jason Witten
WR Braylon Edwards Peerless Price
Amani Toomer/ Dante Stallworth/
David Terrell Cedrick Wilson
DL James Hall John Henderson
Alain Kashama Albert Haynesworth
? Shaun Ellis
? Leonard Little
LB Ian Gold Al Wilson
Dhani Jones Eddie Moore
Cato June Kevin Burnett
CB/S Charles Woodson Dale Carter
Ty Law Terry Fair
Marlin Jackson Deon Grant
? Rashad Baker
K Jay Feely ?
P ? Dustin Colquitt

Well, that certainly took a lot of time. But I’m sure you’ll rest easier knowing Dustin Colquitt went to Tennessee. So, would Manning have a better chance of beating Brady with these teams rather than their current ones? I’d say so. You have to give Tennesse the advantage at every position but cornerback and maybe linebacker and wide receiver (maybe). And, yeah, kicker. But Tennessee’s got a big advantage at running back, tight end and defensive line.

Well, I’m sure that was completely fascinating, but these are the questions that occupy my sick mind.

Also, bit of trivia. Which three schools have produced two current starting NFL quarterbacks. Michigan’s one, with Brian Griese starting for Tampa. Joey Harrington and A.J. Feely give Oregon two, but the wildcard is Marshall, which has Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich. If and when Brett Favre retires, Cal will have two with Aaron Rodgers and Kyle Boller. Oh yeah, I guess Fresno State counts as well with David Carr and Trent Dilfer, who’s starting in Cleveland. That’s four, then.

Well, it’s good to be back. Best wishes to all.

Oh yeah, playoff picks.

AFC Wilcards: Jets and Ravens

NFC Wildcards: Cowboys and Panthers

Super Bowl: Colts over Eagles

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One Response to “You been playing the foose-ball?!”

  1. Michael Lasley Says:

    Glad you’re back, Andy. Mikey

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