Tuesday, September 25, 2007

KingWatch: Enough!

Fortunately for Peter King, the big NFL news this week took place on the field. So after a good month of soiling the back of his pants over Michael Vick's dogfighting and Bill Belichick's videotaping, he could once again soil the front of his pants over that dreamy Brett Favre. On NBC's studio show Sunday, King rather creepily boasted of having Favre's cellphone number. But that didn't even make our list of The 5 Dumbest Things Peter King Said This Week. (See the latest Monday Morning Quarterback column here.)

1. Donovan McNabb made news this past week with his comments that black quarterbacks receive more criticism than white ones. Frankly, I see his point, but even if I didn't, I'm not going to pretend that I know anything about his experience as a black man playing quarterback in the NFL. I mean, no one ever went on national TV and said that I was only considered talented because of my race. (And on that topic: You know who was to blame for Rush Limbaugh's racial comments about McNabb on ESPN a few years back? It wasn't Limbaugh. He was just doing "his thing." No, it was ESPN. They brought Limbaugh on their pregame show and assumed that, once they let him out of his talk-radio cage, he'd act like a football commentator rather than an ape on a rope. But Limbaugh lives in an echo chamber. All day, he speaks only to -- and hears only from -- people who either agree with him already or are waiting for him to tell them what to think. Is it any wonder, then, that a radio host whose racist cracks were notorious would cross the line almost immediately when placed before a general audience?)

Anyway, in a blog entry this week, McNabb made the point that when he talks about criticism of black quarterbacks, he's not just talking about criticism from whites. Other blacks can be just as harsh. McNabb wrote: "I bet Fran Tarkenton, Steve Young, Jake Plummer and Doug Flutie have never been told by a member of a racial consciousness organization that they don't play the quarterback position white enough." This is an interesting point. As McNabb developed as a quarterback, he became more of a pocket passer. Where he once would scramble at the first sign of trouble, he now tucks the ball away and runs only as a last resort. It's called self-preservation: Quarterbacks who run a lot get hurt a lot. And yet, as McNabb ran less, he was indeed criticized by blacks who said he wasn't playing "black enough." Tarkenton, Young, Flutie and Plummer were white guys who ran a lot. McNabb is pointing to them and saying it would be absurd to accuse them of not playing "white enough," so why does he get accused of the reverse? And of course, the pea-brains out there thought he was attacking Tarkenton, et al.

This speaks to something that so many people have missed -- or are simply unable to grasp -- about McNabb's comments. McNabb isn't saying that white quarterbacks don't get criticized. And he's not saying that he gets criticized simply because he's black. He's saying that criticism of black quarterbacks -- even from other blacks -- often comes with a ugly, dehumanizing racial component that white QBs not only don't have to deal with, but probably couldn't even understand.

So here's what King has to say about McNabb's comments: "One point, and one point only: Enough."

So here's one point, and one point only for King: Fuck you, cracker. You can either agree with McNabb, or you can dispute his assertions, or you can say you have no idea whether he's correct. That's called debate, and it used to be a fundamental feature of our democracy. But to tell him that you've decided that you don't want to hear any more, and therefore he should just shut his mouth? How dare you? Jesus, how many times have the Peter Kings of the world peed all over black athletes (Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Tiger Woods, etc.) for declining to take a position on this issue or that? And here a guy comes out and says, look, racism exists in our society, and you shout, "Enough!"

Every time McNabb takes the field, he hears the epithet the media coyly refers to as the "N-word." And he hears it because he's a black guy playing quarterback. That's a dimension that no white quarterback ever has to deal with. And it's sure as shit a dimension that Peter King ever has to deal with.

Frankly, I think King resents the idea that players can start blogs to talk directly to the fans without having to wait for a reporter to call on their secret cellphone number.

2. In just the third installment of "The Fine Fifteen," King is unable to pare down his list enough to fit his own phony category, and he therefore declares that Carolina and Seattle are "tied" for 15th. Also, he has Houston at No. 14 and observes about the upcoming Texans-Falcons game: "Pretty eerie that the first meeting ever in Atlanta between the teams comes this week, in the fourth game of transplanted ex-Falc Matt Schaub's Houston career." Yes, that's positively spooky. Are we sure that next sunday isn't Halloween?

3. After some introductory chatter about the five biggest storylines of the young season -- Packers play good, McNabb play good, Chargers no play so good, Steelers play real good, Randy Moss play real real good -- King wraps up with a stupid throwaway line: "Strange but true. Just like this season so far." Uh, what's so strange about it? Some teams are better than expected. Some teams are worse than expected. Some players are playing above expectations, and others are below expectations. It's just like every other season at the three-week mark. Nothing is strange. So why did he say it? Because he doesn't have anything else to say. In a column specifically set up so that you don't have to write transitions, here we have a flabby, lazy transition.

4. King's "special teams player of the week" is punter Brian Moorman of Buffalo. You know, the Bills, whom the Patriots crushed 38-7? Moorman punted seven times for an average of 49 yards and on two kicks pinned the Pats at their own 2 and their own 11. In the second quarter, punting from the back of his end zone, he got off a kick that traveled 86 yards in the air, pushing New England's return man all the way back to the 24 yard line. That's indeed a hell of a kick -- and I agree that Moorman is a hell of a punter -- but that's his qualification for special teams player of the week? Here's what happened after each of Moorman's seven punts:

1. Patriots drive the length of the field, but fumble on the goal line.
2. Patriots drive the length of the field for a touchdown.
3. Patriots drive the length of the field for a touchdown.
4. Patriots drive the length of the field for a touchdown.
5. Patriots drive the length of the field for a touchdown.
6. Patriots drive the length of the field for a touchdown.
7. Patriots, with their backup QB now in the game, go 3-and-out.

Shouldn't one of the qualifications for a "player of the week" be that he had some sort of measurable impact on the game? Moorman could have been pinning the Patriots in the Berkshires, and they still would have scored on every drive.

5. This is just weird: "Jeff Garcia may not put up Kitnaesque numbers, but he wins." Well, the Buccaneers are 2-1. So are Kitna and the Lions. I have no idea what he's trying to say here. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, McNabb, Vince Young, Matt Hasselbeck, Chad Pennington -- none of them put up Kitnaeqsue numbers, and thank God, but they win, too. At least, they do three weeks into the season. Even Schaub.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Week 3: I can't watch

With the exception of Chargers-Packers and Cowboys-Bears, the slate of games the NFL offered for Week 3 of the 2007 season was the weakest and least-entertaining selection in the three years I've been writing Down and Distance. From Sunday at noon all the way through to Monday night, it was a parade of listless divisional games, throwaway interconference matchups, and assorted odds and ends. The amazing thing is that nine of Sunday afternoon's 14 games were decided by a touchdown or less, and yet, I couldn't have cared less. How many of you sat through Arizona at Baltimore? How about Cleveland at Oakland? Carolina at Atlanta? Indianapolis at Houston? Do you even remember who won the Jets-Dolphins game? I, for one, couldn't remember who I picked 10 minutes after I picked them. And be honest: If Tennessee at New Orleans had not been on Monday Night Football, would you have even watched?

Sunday's late games were the worst, so bad that I actually shut off the TV while the last game -- Giants at Redskins -- was still undecided. Mind you, I pay 50 bucks a month for the Sunday Ticket, so turning off football is like throwing money away. But then I watched the highlights and saw that in the closing moments of that last game, the Redskins, needing a touchdown to tie, had fourth and goal and didn't even have Clinton Portis on the field, and I was glad that I had done the right thing.

When all the dust had settled, I had gone 10-6 for the week in our picks league. Not as good as last week's 11-5 -- or the 13-3 from the opening week -- but still OK, considering that this is the most maddening part of the season. It's so maddening because this is when you come face to face with your presumptions. I picked New Orleans over Tennessee, for example, because I just couldn't believe the Saints are that bad (they are, it seems). I picked San Diego over Green Bay because I just couldn't believe the Packers are that good (they are, it seems). Picking games in Weeks 2-5 is tough because you're still adjusting your idea of who's "good" and who's "bad." It takes a while to shake out.

Baltimore 26, Arizona 23
Tampa Bay 24, St. Louis 3
Pittsburgh 37, San Francisco 16
Philadelphia 56, Detroit 21
N.Y. Jets 31, Miami 28
New England 38, Buffalo 7
Indianapolis 30, Houston 24
Seattle 24, Cincinnati 21
Oakland 26, Cleveland 24
Carolina 27, Atlanta 20

Green Bay 31, San Diego 24
Kansas City 13, Minnesota 10
Jacksonville 23, Denver 14
N.Y. Giants 24, Washington 17
Dallas 34, Chicago 10
Tennessee 31, New Orleans 14


For the second week in a row, Sunday night really was football night in America, as NBC once again landed the week's marquee matchup, Dallas at Chicago. However, because the Bears were involved, I resolved not to watch any of the pregame festivities because I couldn't bear to hear anything else about Rex Grossman. I'm sick and tired of Rex Fucking Grossman. OK, gang, I get it: He's an inconsistent quarterback. "Good Rex," "Bad Rex," all that. Can we move on now?

And then the game starts, and Rex F. Grossman stumbles out onto the field and, by dint of his nasty play, guarantees that all we're going to hear about for the next week is Rex F. Grossman. The guy really is that bad. What's especially fascinating, though, is that he's moved beyond just sabotaging the Bears' offense. He's starting to destroy their defense and special teams, too. Let me explain: With about a minute left in the first quarter and Chicago up 3-0, Bears safety Adam Archuleta intercepted a Tony Romo pass at midfield. Three plays later, Grossman heaved the ball downfield into coverage and was intercepted. Thanks for your hard work, Adam! The Cowboys didn't do anything with that opportunity and were forced to punt. Devin Hester, perhaps feeling pressure to score another return TD because God knows Grossman ain't putting any points on the board, muffed the punt, but fell on it. (Hester would later fumble a kickoff return. The Bears recovered, and on the first play from scrimmage, Grossman threw an interecption that Anthony Henry brought back for a touchdown.) Then, with about two minutes left in the first half, the Bears blocked a field goal, and Archuleta scooped up the ball and ran it to midfield. Thanks again, Adam! Grossman proceeded to throw a bunch of incomplete passes before the Bears botched a field goal try of their own. Is it any wonder, then, that later in the game Archuleta was missing tackles and getting beaten in coverage? I know these players are pros and all, but I wouldn't condemn guys like Archuleta and Hester for wondering why the hell they're knocking themselves out making plays when Grossman is just going to give the ball right back.

There's a drinking game to be made out of Lovie Smith's press conferences: Drink every time Smith says "Rex Grossman is our quarterback"; drink twice when he mentions the team's record "with Rex Grossman as our quarterback." Drink the whole thing if he ever mentions Brian Griese's name. After Sunday night's game, Smith started in with "Rex Grossman is our quarterback" before he was even asked, probably because the crowd at Soldier Field began chanting Griese's name in the first quarter and got louder with each of Grossman's three interceptions. As the chants continued, Al Michaels and John Madden were up in the booth explaining why switching to Griese might not be such a great idea: because Griese, a 10-year veteran, would be at best a stopgap measure. It wouldn't be like the Broncos deciding last year to bench Jake Plummer for Jay Cutler, or the Bengals going with de facto rookie Carson Palmer in 2004, even though Jon Kitna had just had a career year. Cutler and Palmer were the future of their franchises, and the sooner they got on the field, the sooner they could get over their growing pains and start putting up W's. Grossman, however, is supposed to be the future of the Bears franchise. Pulling him would mean conceding failure and starting over at the quarterback position.

To which I (and all of Chicagoland) say: So what? This is the third straight season in which the only thing standing between the Bears and immortality is crappy play at quarterback. Two years ago, the defense played lights-out football -- and had to, because Kyle Orton was a disaster under center. Last year, not only did the defense play lights-out football, so did the special teams -- and, again, they had to, because Grossman started the season solid, then developed a slow leak, then imploded entirely. Defensive dominance like that demonstrated by the Bears the past few years is not as easy to maintain as offensive dominance; teams eventually find your weaknesses and exploit them. As young as the Bears may be, their window is getting narrower by the week, and they need a QB who can get the ball through that window without smashing the glass and buckling the siding.

Rex Grossman is a lot of goddam things, but what he isn't is a game manager, and that's what the Bears need right now: Someone who can take the good field position he's consistently given by the defense and the kick-return teams, and turn that field position into 20-24 points a game. Trent Dilfer filled that role for the 2000 Ravens. Brad Johnson did so for the 2002 Buccaneers. On the 2007 Bears, Griese's more likely to fill the role than Grossman is. Hell, I'm more likely to fill the role than Grossman is. The Bears need to knock off the Grossman experiment, because the future really is now.

(All this focus on Grossman, though, is terribly unfair to the Cowboys, who played an excellent game Sunday night. I'm willing to admit it if I was wrong about Wade Phillips as a head coach, but I'm not ready to go there yet.)

One team that has never been afraid to bench its quarterback of the future -- or of the present or past -- is the Arizona Cardinals, and that willingness to play musical QBs appears to be the one thing that survived the transition from the Dennis Green era to the Ken Whisenhunt era. Perhaps that's why the Cardinals are the one team for whom the future will never arrive.

Failing to get any kind of push against the Ravens on Sunday, Whisenhunt sat Matt Leinart's Hollywood ass on the bench and called over the intercom, "Cleanup on Aisle 4!" That was the cue for the Arizona backup QB, former stockboy-turned-wunderkind-turned-stockboy Kurt Warner. I'm tempted to put Warner's name in italics because I wonder how many people outside of Iowa were even aware that he was still in the league. Warner, of course, was a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and a two-time league MVP, but that was 45 dog years ago. Since 2001, he's resembled Joe Montana only in that he gets hurt all the time and that he has been benched three times for QBs of the future (Marc Bulger in St. Louis, Eli Manning in New York, Leinart and others in Arizony). Anyway, Warner came in and played extremely well against the Ravens, tying the game with a 17-point fourth quarter before Baltimore pulled out the victory with a field goal on the final play.

And now the Cardinals have a full-blown quarterback controversy on their hands. Unlike Lovie Smith, who has stuck to his guns on Grossman because he knows that once he makes the switch there's no going back, rookie head coach Whisenhunt thinks he can trot Warner out there for a few plays without destroying Leinart's confidence (and wasting all that money the team has committed to him). Whisenhunt explained afterwards that the team has a "Kurt Warner package" of hurry-up plays that the backup is more suited to run. Leinart remains the starter, the coach said, while Warner will be the no-huddle specialist. All of which is bullshit. Many teams will bring in their backups in specialty situations -- the 300-pound Jared Lorenzen on short yardage for the Giants, or a Slash-style QB like Seneca Wallace to run the option -- but they do so because the starter is ill-suited to those specific roles. But Leinart is a classic drop-back passer, and Warner is also a classic drop-back passer. The Cardinals want Warner to run the no-huddle because they have no confidence that Leinart can do it, and, more important, they don't want to let him learn.

The future is not now in Arizona. This team is still at least a year or two away. But destroying Leinart's confidence for short-term gain may well guarantee that the future will continue to never arrive. If that makes any sense.

The Ravens might have a QB controversy themselves, if the team and the city hadn't already given up on Kyle Boller long ago. Despite looking sharp toward the end of the 2005 season, Boller lost his starting job the next year when Baltimore brought in Steve McNair. However, McNair, as has been his wont, gets hurt a lot, and Boller has filled in admirably so far this season. He nearly led the Ravens to victory against the Bengals, only to have the game-tying TD taken away by a bogus penalty; he beat the Jets last week; and he engineered the game-winning drive on Sunday (well, he and Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson, whose cheap shot on Todd Heap gave the Ravens 15 free yards). Ravens coach Brian Billick says McNair remains the team's starter, but Boller will be ready to come in if McNair's groin gives him trouble (gives McNair trouble, that is).

Baltimore has had QB controversies pre-loaded ever since Billick canned Dilfer right after the Super Bowl, but this time around the coach appears to be playing it pretty well. Any time he benches McNair, he can just say it was because he pulled his groin (McNair pulled his groin, that is). Then, if Boller screws the pooch (no, not that one), Billick can just say McNair's groin is better and put him back in. Quite Easily Done!

Even if I'd known that this game was going to have all sorts of QB intrigue, a Super Bowl XXXIV rematch -- Warner vs. McNair! -- and a down-to-the-wire finish, I highly doubt I'd have found time in my empty schedule to watch. Some interconference games you just know are going to be good, or at least rich with tradition or symbolism. Others are just so uninviting as to be distasteful. Those are the ones they play because they have to. Every team has to play every other team at least once every four years. In the case of the Arizona Cardinals and the Baltimore Ravens, even that may be too often. There's no reason for these teams to play. Ever.

Speaking of desultory, unattractive interconference matchups, here's another: Cincinnati at Seattle. Ugly, ugly game -- and that was just the uniforms. Oh sure, it went down to the last minute -- what didn't this week? -- but color me blah. If you had to pick one team in each conference for whom the expectations will always outstrip the performance, you could do worse than to pick the Cincinnati Bengals and the Seattle Seahawks. And the Seahawks were in the Super Bowl just two years ago. Both teams are filled with talented players, and yet the whole is usually considerably less than the sum of the parts.

With the Bengals, the problem this year is fairly simple. The team's third receiving option, Chris Henry, is sitting out half the season on suspension, so Carson Palmer is forcing everything to Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh in double coverage. And "forcing" is the operative word, because his mechanics look all winky-wonky. He's throwing a half-step behind or a half-step ahead of the receivers, and his fade passes go too far. Meanwhile, Rudi Johnson is going nowhere. With the Cincinnati defense so awful, the Bengals are pressing to score on every drive. When you press, you make mistakes.

As for the Seahawks, well, 2007 has got 9-7 written all over it. Once again, that may be good enough to win the NFC West, because the Rams are awful, the 49ers are bogus and the Cardinals are playing patty-cake with quarterbacks.

With the Vikings playing the Chiefs, there was no question which game was going to be selected for the KDSM Central Iowa Crap Matchup of the Week, though it's not like Fox had much to choose from in the early slot. I've already dealt with Arizona-Baltimore. Two of the three other options were San Francisco at Pittsburgh and St. Louis at Tampa Bay. Feel free to write your own impressions of any of those games and post them in the comments (ha), because I've got nothing that hasn't already been said.

The final Fox early game was Detroit at Philadelphia, which turned out to be quite the barn-burner, but who would have expected the Eagles to put up 56 points with the way they'd been playing? As a sign of how my Sunday went, I started following this game in the second half, after the teams had put up a combined 63 points in 28 minutes. Naturally, they scored a total of 14 the rest of the way. There's nothing I can say about this game that hasn't already been said. Donovan McNabb had a great game when he needed it most, Jon Kitna threw for a lot of meaningless yards, and the Eagles' throwback uniforms were the ugliest yet. Yesterday on the local sports radio station (which, regrettably, is Fox rather than ESPN), some asswipe was making a huge deal about the uniforms. "Get 'em off my high-def TV!" he shouted, in what may go down in history as the most pathetic, trying-too-hard, faux-macho, pretentious statement ever uttered on sports radio. Oh, you have a high-def TV, do you? How often do you suppose he casually mentions that he drives a Hummer or Lexus or whatever piece-of-shit-mobile he's paying too much for? Don't tap your feet too hard in the News Corp. restroom, dude.

The good games were all on CBS, including the best of the lot, San Diego at Green Bay, which miraculously aired in Iowa, even though Cleveland at Oakland was available! While everyone focused on the resurgence of Brett Favre and the Packers, I was intrigued by the continued NorvTurnerization of the Chargers. There was a point in the game where Philip Rivers and LaDanian Tomlinson appeared to be getting into it on the sideline. That's not a big deal --- "It's an emotional game," as the players and coaches like to say -- and the two kissed and made up afterwards. Such conflict can be healthy if a franchise is moving in the right direction. You think Peyton Manning hasn't argued with teammates during a game? Tom Brady? McNabb? Of course they have. The good teams, the ones with strong leaderhsip, take those tensions and direct them outward, toward the opponents. But on teams with weak leadership, those kinds of problems remain focused inward, and the negative energy builds and builds until it bleeds out in the media, around the practice field and eventually on game day.

Bill Parcells can tell two feuding players to shut the fuck up and sit down. So can Bill Belichick. Tony Dungy would do it, if His Holiness could even bring himself to say "fuck." I bet Mike Tomlin's got no problem with doing so. But not Norv Turner. Norv is the teacher who gets assigned to monitor study hall, and when the two kids who wear leather jackets to school start fighting, he stands there impotently, shouting, "Come on guys! Come on! Break it up! I'm gonna have to call the principal!" Dissension tears teams apart -- and the more-talented teams are more vulnerable than the less-talented ones, because they have more guys who think that if they just got the ball more, everything would be fine. San Diego is 1-2 -- although, considering their schedule, it's a much better 1-2 than the one the Vikings are sitting on. If things spin out of control the way they tend to when Norv Turner's name is on top of the flowchart, the only way this team is going to the playoffs is if it backs in by winning a crappy division. (And hey, this just in: The Denver Broncos, having just beaten two awful, awful teams by the skin of their teeth, got rolled at home by Jacksonville. So it's not like anyone else is looking to step up in the AFC West.)

Despite the jawboning by Rivers and Tomlinson, the Chargers' offense actually played pretty well against the strong Green Bay defense. On the other side of the ball, however, there was trouble. Much has been made in this space about the Chargers' decision to fire Marty Schottenheimer and go outside the organization for his replacement, Turner. Over the past two weeks, though, it looks like the coach San Diego will really be missing is Wade Phillips. Whatever you think of Phillips' suitability as a head coach (and in my case, that isn't much), he's a hell of a defensive coordinator. With Phillips gone to Dallas, the Chargers, who last year were flying around making things happen, are now flying around watching things happen.

Since we're on the subject of teams falling apart, we might as well close with Monday Night Football, in which the Tennessee Titans proved that they are a team to be reckoned with, and the New Orleans Saints proved that they are not.

This game finally forced me to confront my feelings about Vince Young. I've never liked him, for reasons that have very little to do with Vince Young himself. Mostly they have to do with his coach at the University of Texas, Mack Brown. It goes back to the 2004 season, when Texas was on the BCS bubble. Undefeated Utah had wrapped up one of the two available at-large bids, meaning that Cal and Texas -- both with one loss -- were competing for the other bid. Poll voters had been ranking Cal higher all season, and it looked like the Bears were going to the Rose Bowl while Texas went to the Cotton Bowl or Capital One Bowl or some other hellhole. So Mack Brown, in true, manly, rugged, individualistic Texas form, cried like a big pussy and begged the voters to rank the Longhorns higher. They did, and Texas got in. I was so offended by this -- if you want a BCS bid so bad, why don't you just win your fucking games, Mack? -- that I began actively rooting against Texas. A year later, when the Longhorns met Southern Cal in the BCS title game, I pulled hard and was crestfallen when Young almost singlehandedly pulled out the win for Texas.

Later, when it came out that Young may be dumb as a board, I felt pathetically vindicated. When he made a fool out of himself by showing up at the White House in jeans and a sweatshirt when all his teammates wore jackets and ties, I smiled. I am a small, small person.

But that big, dumb, sloppy dressing bastard is one hell of a football player. Despite his bizarre, (literally) half-cocked throwing motion, he was shooting lasers to his receivers in the Superdome on Monday night. Further, he ran only when necessary. You can't overstate how remarkable it is for a young, excessively hyped "athletic" quarterback with the kind of mobility that Vince Young has to stay at home in the pocket and go through his reads before taking off running. The late Michael Vick, for example, would pull the ball down and run if his first receiver was covered.

It took me a long time to come around on Tom Brady, whom I petulantly held responsible for the Bill Belichick jobbed Drew Bledsoe. Hopefully it won't take as long with Young, because he seems like a good kid and a fantastic athlete.

OK, now for the team that's falling apart: The New Orleans Saints. Holy Shiite, do these guys look bad. The offense that stretched the field so well in 2006 now appears to subsist entirely on 1-yard flare passes and Reggie Bush plunges into a stacked line. Anytime Drew Brees went more than 5 yards downfield, the ball was picked off. I suppose some of New Orleans' impotence was attributable to the dogged Titans defenders, who chased down Saints ballcarriers with ruthless abandon, but not all of it. And on defense, New Orleans is just as bad. They can't -- or, at least, don't -- wrap anybody up. Young, LenDale White and Chris Brown had guys in black jerseys bouncing off them all game, like bugs off a windshield. It was ridiculous.

As bad as they looked, however, it was still ridiculous for Tony Kornheiser to start talking about the New Orleans Aints of yore before the first quarter was even out. I thought the MNF problems would be solved with Joe Theismann out of the booth, but I think Kornheiser is going to have to go, too. It's not just that he isn't original; it's that he says things so obvious that most of us at home wouldn't dare say them because we'd look stupid.

Down and Distance's exclusive KA-POWER RANKINGS are back for their third year. The product of a simple formula, the rankings have predicted 10 of the last 17 Super Bowl winners. Further, 14 of the last 17 Super Bowl winners finished the regular season No. 1 or No. 2 in the KA-POWER RANKINGS system. Unlike with other, lesser rating systems, no opinion is involved in formulating these rankings. None. Teams are ranked on a centigrade scale, with 100 representing the NFL's strongest team and 0 its weakest. Don't like where your team is ranked? Blame science. (Key: WK3 = This week's ranking. WK2 = Last week's ranking. POW = KA-POWER centigrade score)
1 1Steelers 100.001718tCardinals45.96
2 2Patriots 95.771813Broncos 43.93
3 7Cowboys 73.4119 8Lions 39.11
4 4Colts 71.932022Raiders 38.45
514Bucs 70.092121Browns 36.99
6 5Packers 69.87221249ers 35.62
7 3Texans 64.422327Giants 34.74
823Eagles 63.702426Dolphins 33.78
9 6Vikings 63.572524Chargers 33.54
1015Titans 62.782628Jets 30.56
1111Jaguars 61.552720Bears 23.33
1210Seahawks 59.112831Chiefs 19.64
1316Panthers 53.122925Rams 15.66
14 9Redskins 51.583032Falcons 15.50
1518tRavens 50.153130Saints 6.57
1617Bengals 47.103229Bills 0.00

SEASON: 34-14 (70.8%)
(2006 through Week 3: 29-17, 63.0%)
(2005 through Week 3: 27-19, 58.7%)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Stop The Rock

Running through the TV listings yesterday morning, I saw that ESPN Classic was running a Miami-at-San Diego State football game from November 28, 1992. I figured that the only reason they'd be showing something like was because it was Marshall Faulk's senior season, and he must have gone absolutely crazy in this game -- like, 300 yards or something. So I flipped over to Channel 208.

Once there, I discovered that the rerun of the 1992 game was part of something called "The Rock's Game Plan," another vile cross-promotion in which wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was given the keys to (Disney-owned) ESPN Classic for a day to hype his new (Disney-released) film, The Game Plan, which I have not seen but which I presume is both unwatchable and indistinguishable from a half-dozen Vin Diesel titles.

Anyway, once I locked on ESPN Classic, there was The Rock with his big dumb bald head talking about why he chose to show Miami vs. San Diego State. See, Dwayne Johnson was a defensive lineman for the Miami Hurricanes in the early 1990s before suffering a knee injury and being replaced in the lineup by Warren Sapp. The Rock explained that this particular game had been hyped at the time as the final showdown for the 1992 Heisman Trophy, pitting as it did Faulk, the eventual Heisman runner-up, against Miami quarterback Gino Toretta, the eventual winner and proof of the award's irrelevance at the NFL level. However, The Rock said, contrary to the very reason I tuned in, Faulk didn't actually play in this game because of an injury. (The Rock made some comment to the effect that Faulk was a pussy.) Soooooo ... we're going to watch ... Gino Toretta go crazy?

Well, no. The Rock explained that he chose this game because it featured not one but two bench-clearing brawls, and he was right in the middle of both of them. That's the reason. Were I a Disney executive, I would be so very pleased. To promote our new PG-rated, football-star-becomes-daddy movie -- a movie in which the hero, according to Disney, "discovers thats theres more to life than money, endorsements and thousands of adoring fans" -- The Rock has chosen to show a game in which the gunmen, rapists and thugs of the University of Miami go on two steroid-fueled rampages.

Whatever. I didn't watch because I could think of a few thousand better ways to spend a morning than to sit through two hours of Gino Toretta's greatest hits while waiting for the Miami players to start tweaking on the sidelines and charge the field. Not when I could just go over to YouTube and watch the latest incarnation of the Jailicanes brawl with Florida International (to be fair, FIU was spoiling for a fight), or the 1993 version pick a fight with Colorado on the opening kickoff, or -- if you want to really go old school -- the 1987 Hurricanes inciting a riot against South Carolina with a cheap shot after the whistle. I don't need no Dwayne Johnson.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

O.J. was set up! Heh. Gotcha.

Whether you believe it or not -- and whether it's even true or not -- you're going to hear it in the coming days, weeks and months: "O.J. Simpson was set up in Vegas." Trust me. It happened before, and it's going to happen again. Conspiracy theories follow the guy around like ... well, like Fred Goldman's lawyer. And here's what people making the case for a set-up are going to jump on:

The scene: Set-ups always happen in hotel rooms. It's neutral territory. Those in on the operation won't bring the target to their own property for the takedown, because it heightens their exposure. No one wants criminal or near-criminal activity going on in their own living rooms, especially when they're going to tape it. And they sure as hell won't try to pull the sting on the target's turf, because they can't control the variables. A neutral site like a hotel room allows them to control the environment. Plus, hotel rooms allow you to park extra manpower, surveillance equipment, etc. "right next door" -- one room over -- but totally out of sight. Remember what happened to Marion Barry: "Bitch" set him up in a hotel room.

The tape: Someone made an audiotape of the confrontation going down, which he quickly sold to TMZ.com. You don't have tape running in a situation like that unless you want it for evidence. The sale, however, makes the tape all but useless at trial. You can't just play an audiotape -- or show a picture or a video -- in a court of law. Whoever made the tape has to testify, which means they have to be open to cross-ex about their motives. The question will be asked outside of court, though (and probably already is): How much did he get? And would he be willing to set someone up for that kind of cash?

The loot: Alfred Beardsley, one of the dudes whom Simpson allegedly threatened, was on the Today show this morning to get the clock rolling on his 15 minutes. Matt Lauer asked him: This stuff that you were trying to sell -- sports memorabilia that O.J. claims was stolen from him -- who is the rightful owner? The guy went all legalistic, saying, "That's for the courts to determine."* Lauer then pointed out that he'd just admitted on national television that he was trying to sell stuff that he didn't have clear title to. At that point, he backtracked and said, "Yeah, it's my stuff after all."* Vast conspiracy theories have been spun out of a lot less. Beardsley also said the tape had been doctored, which will be interesting when and if he ever gets to the stand. (*=paraphrase)

The Goldmans: Before Simpson's bail had even been set, the Goldman family was angling to seize whatever money he came up with to post bond before he could post it. The family also wants the courts to sort out what part of the loot actually belongs to Simpson, so they can take it and sell it, and they have already had a judge award them a Rolex watch that Simpson was seen wearing on TMZ.com. A family lawyer told USA Today about the watch: "We pray it's not a fake. We pray it says 'Made in Switzerland,' not in Bangkok." Earlier this year, the Goldmans were able to confiscate the rights to Simpson's confessional book If I Did It -- but rather than burn it as the abomination it is, they released it. Simpson's arrest has reportedly goosed sales, which means more money for the Goldman family. About the book, the lawyer said: "We struck gold. ... It's selling well." Someone looking for evidence of a set-up could allege that the incident was stage-managed to flush Simpson out and steer more money to the Goldmans.

So was he set up? Oh, God, don't ask me. This is just an intellectual exercise.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

KingWatch: Those awesome Browns

Peter King spends about half of this week's Monday Morning Quarterback column dissecting, trisecting and quadrisecting the scandal he refers to, incessantly, as "Spygate," even though we've made it abundantly clear that "Tapegate" would be a far more appropriate name, assuming you're creatively bankrupt enough to still be leaning on the "-gate" crutch at this late date. It's not worth it to go into everything PK writes about the matter, so we'll say only this: Dude is taking this whole thing awfully personally. King all but declares that he's going to use his clout on the Hall of Fame selection committee to keep Bill Belichick out of Canton for a while. He quotes a tsk-tsk column from the New York Times (imagine that: New York media pissing all over the New England Patriots). And he flat-out demands that Belichick rend his garments in public: "He owes the public an explanation for why he did what he did." Oh, come off it, Pete. What you're saying is he owes you an explanation, because you've been holding him up for years as the messianic genius love child of Al Einstein and Tom Edison's civil union. And now it turns out that Belichick is not beneath breaking the rules if he thinks it'll help him -- in other words, he's a 21st-century American -- and it's eating you up inside. Yawn. How's this for an explanation: He thought it would give him a competitive advantage. What the hell else needs to be said? Well, enough things to fill out The 5 Dumbest Things King Said This Week:

1. I usually have no desire to quibble with the way King chooses to rank the teams that make up his "Fine Fifteen." The rankings are just his personal opinions. But I was a little intrigued by his decision to put the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 5. King notes that the Steelers have outscored their opponents 60-10. And although those opponents have been the Bills and Browns, he says, "don't concentrate on that. Concentrate on the fact the Steelers are playing terrific, bone-crunching, Bear-like football." So if we leave opponents out of it, why do we have the 2-0 Steelers below the Bears and Chargers, both 1-1? The Bears' incompetent offense cost them the game against San Diego in the opener and struggled against the flaccid Chiefs on Sunday. The Chargers won that opener only because they made fewer mistakes than the Bears, and they followed that up with Sunday's night's disaster, in which the Pats yanked down the Chargers' pants and pointed out their tiny little pee-pees to a national TV audience. The Steelers have utterly destroyed both their opponents, while the Bears and Chargers have struggled mightily against theirs. Me no get it.

2. When King isn't screaming "Where's the outrage?" over Tapegate (see?), he's slobbering all over the Cleveland Browns' pole. The Browns' 51-45 victory over the Bengals was quite a game, all right, and King really goes to town. King quotes Browns quarterback Derek Anderson, he of the 13 minutes of fame and counting, as saying that coach Romeo Crennel "thought we'd go out and play really well today." King follows up with: "But this well? In the long NFL history of the Browns, which dates to 1950, they'd never had a game in which (blah blah blah stats blah blah)." As his "Goat of the Week," King chooses "the entire Cincinnati defense." And he strokes Braylon Edwards a little for his highlight-reel TD catch: "That's what a high first-round draft pick does, make diving catches with the game on the line." (I'm not sure the game qualifies as "on the line" when you're already leading a shootout 41-38 with 10 minutes left, but we'll let that pass.)

The problem with all these laurels, if you haven't yet detected it, is this: The Browns gave up 45 points. King says it's unbelievable how "well" the Browns played ... but they gave up 45 points! Further, by tabbing the Bengals defense as the goat, he's really saying the Browns didn't play well at all. They just went through the motions while Cincy sat around playing with their dongs. (How many penis references can we cram into this item?) You can't at once praise Jamal Lewis for running roughshod all over the Bengals while condemning the Bengals for not even laying a finger on Lewis. Get it?

3. King is supposed to know football. He's not supposed to buy into the QB-on-QB bullshit that so much of the media tries to reduce NFL games to. Yet he chides Titans quarterback Vince Young, "You'll need to be more accurate than that to beat Peyton Manning." Young isn't out there trying to get the ball past Manning; he's trying to get it past a Colts defense that might not be as good as it appeared in Week 1 against the suddenly suspect Saints. King mentions a ball that Young badly overthrew to Bo Scaife in the second quarter, but ignores that on the final drive in the fourth quarter, when the Titans were down by just 2 points, Young put a pass on the hands of Brandon Jones, who dropped it. If Jones makes that catch, the Titans probably get into position to kick the winning field goal. Yes, Young has accuracy problems (and attitude problems; grow up already, ya baby) -- but he could have beaten the Colts (er, I mean Manning) even with those problems. He did so just last year, remember?

4. Ever notice that the anti-union movement never actually goes after the members of a union? They're always saying that their real problem is with the corrupt and selfish "union bosses." They know that there's no way in hell that people would stand for politicians and others attacking teachers, cops and firemen -- so they create these Hoffa-esque caricatures of "bosses" and attack them instead. I mention this because it's exactly what retired NFL players have been doing in their push to get better pension benefits out of the players' union. (That push is entirely justified, if you ask me.) Who are these retirees going after? You guessed it: Union "boss" Gene Upshaw, himself a retired player. King gives over a big chunk of his column to Hall-of-Famer Bart Starr's anti-Upshaw rant:

"It's disgraceful. I'm embarrassed. It's shameful. If I told you guys some of the players from past eras, their retirement package is below the poverty level. Gentlemen, that is absolutely unacceptable and in my opinion shameful and all of us should be ashamed of that, and it's a disgrace. ... I'm surprised and disappointed that some time ago the National Football League Players Association didn't step up ... When you have someone [NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw] making the kind of money, $6 or $7 million a year, to me that's just despicable ... They need to step up and change this."

Fine and dandy, but remember who Upshaw works for: the current members of the union, and only the current members of the union. If the union reps from the individual teams came to Upshaw and said something like, "Chief, we want to start assessing members 5% of their net salaries to fund better benefits for current retirees," you can bet he'd go for it. He'd have no choice but to go for it, because the reps are his bosses. So why doesn't Starr call out the current players? Why doesn't he say, "You guys are making millions of dollars, and it's a result of the sacrifices we made to build the game. You owe it to us." I'll tell you why: Because current players are popular, and the retirees don't want to get in a fight with them. So the retirees pretend like it's Upshaw's call, and his alone, and King and other lazy idiots in the media just go along with that. And why doesn't Upshaw just make this very point? Why doesn't he say publicly, "If the current players want me to increase benefits, I'll do it?" Because they pay him that despicable "$6 or $7 million a year" not to. He takes the heat so they don't have to. Sorry, Bart. Better get some more ice for those knees.

5. Last week King declared that "Fashion Week" made no sense to him. As if anyone gives a fuck. This week he asks, "How does James Spader beat Gandolfini for best actor at the Emmy's?" Uh, by getting more votes? Look, we know you're obsessed with The Sopranos, and that every time it comes on the TV, so do you. But just because you thnk James Gandolfini is just so dreamy doesn't mean that everyone else has to. I don't know if Spader is the best actor. Frankly, I don't care. (However, I'm sure that PK has never seen Boston Legal and is therefore no more qualified to judge than I am.) But whoever makes those decisions seems to think he is. That's the trouble with awards. If you use them to establish your credibility -- which HBO has done non-stop with The Sopranos for eight fucking years -- then you have to smile and deal with it when those same awards eventually go to someone else. That's the way it works.

Week 2: 96 points, none of them interesting

Pittsburgh 26, Buffalo 3
Jacksonville 13, Atlanta 7
Indianapolis 22, Tennessee 20
Green Bay 35, N.Y. Giants 13
San Francisco 17, St. Louis 16
Dallas 37, Miami 20
Detroit 20, Minnesota 17 (OT)
Chicago 20, Kansas City 10
Baltimore 20, N.Y. Jets 13
Denver 23, Oakland 20 (OT)
New England 38, San Diego 14

Houston 34, Carolina 21
Arizona 23, Seattle 20
Cleveland 51, Cincinnati 45
Tampa Bay 31, New Orleans 14
Washington 20, Philadelphia 12

Pittsburgh 26, Buffalo 3
Another dominating performance (outside the red zone, at least) by the Steelers, who wore throwback uniforms from the glory days of the 1970s when the franchise was located in San Diego and was known as the Padres.

Indianapolis 22, Tennessee 20
The most disturbing thing for Colts fans this week was not that their team struggled against the Titans. They always struggle against the Titans. It was that the Saints looked so awful against the Buccaneers, calling into question whether Indy's opening night victory was really the accomplishment we all thought it was.

Green Bay 35, N.Y. Giants 13
There's something terribly wrong with the New York Giants, and for once, it isn't Eli Manning. Tiki Barber has pissed all over Manning and the coaches from the top of Rockefeller Center, but when is he going to shoot a stream at Michael Strahan and the rest of the defense? I'd settle just for Strahan, who sat out just about all of training camp giving handjobs to Jared from Subway and is now playing exactly like a guy who skipped all of training camp. Unfortunately for Strahan, Brett Favre was too busy carving up the Giants 10 yards at a time to gift-wrap a couple sacks for him.

San Francisco 17, St. Louis 16
Arizona 23, Seattle 20
First team to 8-8 wins the NFC West.

Cleveland 51, Cincinnati 45
Browns quarterback Derek Anderson surely learned his lesson last week when Charlie Frye, who had won the starting job in camp, was benched, then traded after one bad half against Pittsburgh. Trolling through the Internet on Monday morning, I came across a page that listed Anderson among the fantasy football "stud QBs" of the week for his 328 yards and five touchdowns (trailing only the Bengals' Carson Palmer, who had 401 yards and six TDs). Oh, Anderson had a hell of a game, but if you're in a league with someone dumb enough to even have Derek Anderson on his team, let alone start him, you should encourage that idiot to ride Anderson as long as he possibly can. In fact, I think I'm gonna start a brain-dead "fantasy" feature to compete with all the other sites out there that encourage fantasy "owners" to run to the waiver wire and claim whatever scrub had a career day. I'll even sell ads for BoDog! That way I can suggest that you unload LaDanian Tomlinson and his measly 5.8 fantasy points and snap up Anderson with his muscular 44.4. I'll be wrong, but so is everyone else. Notice that I'm not saying anything about the game. Three years ago, these same two teams played a 58-48 shootout that was the most ridiculously entertaining game I'd ever seen. This one was, believe it or not, just boring. Maybe I'm just over the Bengals. They didn't beat the Ravens last week; the Ravens beat themselves with six turnovers, and God (and physics) helped beat them with injuries. This week, the fershlugginer Cleveland Browns simply held onto the ball, and the Bengals were pussycats. Toothless, clawless, fixed pussycats. Browns fans can go ahead and rejoice, because they don't get much chance to do so anymore, and besides, its just nice to see Jamal Lewis leave cleat marks on a team other than the Browns.

Tampa Bay 31, New Orleans 14
And it wasn't even as close as the score indicated. You see something like this, especially after last week's debacle in Indianapolis, and you start to think that maybe last season really was a miracle. As in, maybe God really did intervene to lift the fortunes of the Saints and the spirits of New Orleans. God, however, only stays involved through the divisional round of the playoffs. Once you make it to the conference championship game, he's made it clear that you're on your own. Further, if you aren't sufficiently grateful -- for example, coming off as "America's Team" rather than "God's Team" -- well, God might just send his Cherubim and Seraphim down here to start working miracles for someone else. Like, maybe healing Cadillac Williams' bruised ribs enough for him to score two touchdowns, Yes, as the Bible makes clear, he's a jealous God, but he has every right to be. He's God.

Detroit 20, Minnesota 17 (OT)
Remember last week, when our local CBS affiliate (KCCI) passed up the Patriots-Jets contest and brought us the epic Chiefs-Texans collision, with all its putative local interest? This week, it was the Fox affiliate's turn in the barrel -- or, rather, its turn to put viewers in the barrel. KDSM passed on both Packers-Giants, the week's top NFC game, and Cowboys-Dolphins and instead carried Vikings-Lions. And carried it with its usual grainy, bleached-out UHF signal. Thank God for the Sunday Ticket. What I saw of this game only confirmed that Tarvaris Jackson is, hands down, the worst starting quarterback in the NFL today. In two games, he's 30-of-56 for 329 yards, 1 touchdown and 5 interceptions. And more than one-quarter of those "passing" yards are actually rushing yards by Adrian Peterson after taking two dumpoff passes. (Take out those two plays, and Jackson's 40.0 QB rating falls to 25.6.) Sure, Jackson had a 1-yard touchdown run, but only after Peterson got him all the yards up to the 1. I'm afraid to look at what Vikings fans are saying about the team this year, because, after all, Minnesota is 1-1 and could be 2-0 if they'd gotten a break in overtime Sunday, right? Well, yes, but any team that, in order to appear competitive, has to count on the defense scoring touchdowns, or the opposing QB throwing interceptions in the end zone, or the opposing QB getting hurt and being replaced by future sports-bar magnate J.T. O'Sullivan for two quarters, or starting the season with games against the Falcons and Lions, is in more trouble than you can imagine. Lions fans also may be tempted toward giddiness over their team's first 2-0 start since 2004 (when they finished 6-10), but they might want to cool it, too. For all Jon Kitna's grit in Sunday's game -- and he is a tough litttle bastard, no doubt -- the guy has thrown end-zone picks two weeks in a row. (Carson Palmer did that a lot, too, the first couple years of his career; now I know where he got it.) He's also not going to stay healthy if he continues to take the kind of beating he's recieved so far in this very young season, and all the team has under heat lamps in the back is O'Sullivan and perpetual project Dan Orlovsky. One more thing about Detroit: First-round wideout Calvin Johnson, who is happily not a bust after all, has taken a certain amount of shit in recent days over his offhand comment that he's been having success because he is "just kind of a natural athlete." What kind of fucked-up world do we live in when a football player gets ripped for recognizing that he has God-given talent and that some things come easy to him? The kind that's overpopulated by Around the Horn media retards, obviously. Same as always.

Chicago 20, Kansas City 10
If I were a Bears fan, I'd have enough to worry about with Rex Grossman turning in another stellar 1-touchdown, 2-interception performance and with Chicago needing a Devin Hester punt return touchdown to win their home opener. Just about the last thing I would need -- if I were that hypothetical Bears fan -- is to read running back Cedric Benson's comment after the game: "This was a statement, a statement for the team." That statement, unfortunately, appears to be: "The Kansas City Chiefs, right now the worst team in the NFL (or at least in the AFC), can come into our home field, where we're playing our first real game since the Super Bowl, and essentially play us even." When a team like the Patriots really feels the need to make a statement, they go and kick the crap out of a 14-2 team. When the Bears need a statement, their offense comes out of the tunnel and fucks itself in the earhole for four quarters while waiting for the defense and special teams to bail it out. That statement is getting awful repetitive.

Baltimore 20, N.Y. Jets 13
Huh. Nobody's videotaping, and yet the Jets still can't win. Yes, their starting quarterback was out. So was the Ravens'.

Denver 23, Oakland 20 (OT)
Two weeks, two victories over marginal-at-best opponents squeaked out at, literally, the last second. Also, two times that Jason Elam has been crowned as the ice-water-in-his-veins hero even though the only reason the Broncos needed him to win the game at the end was because he missed field goals earlier. I hate that shit.

New England 38, San Diego 14
The week's biggest game is discussed in nauseating detail here.

Washington 20, Philadelphia 12
On three separate occasions during the preseason, I heard announcers discuss the pronunciation of Eagles backup quarterback Kevin Kolb's name. The L is silent, so it's pronounced "cob" rather than "cole-b." This is critical because when 70,000 fans are chanting it in unison at the Linc in mid-October, it's important that they get it right so Andy Reid understands what they want: Kevin Kolb to come in and take sacks because his receivers can't get open and his line can't protect him.

Down and Distance's exclusive KA-POWER RANKINGS are back for their third year. The product of a simple formula, the rankings have predicted 10 of the last 17 Super Bowl winners. Further, 14 of the last 17 Super Bowl winners finished the regular season No. 1 or No. 2 in the KA-POWER RANKINGS system. Unlike with other, lesser rating systems, no opinion is involved in formulating these rankings. None. Teams are ranked on a centigrade scale, with 100 representing the NFL's strongest team and 0 its weakest. Don't like where your team is ranked? Blame science. (Key: WK2 = This week's ranking. WK1 = last week's ranking. POW = KAPOW-ER centigrade score)
1 3Steelers 100.001710Bengals45.12
2 7Patriots 80.391823Ravens 44.58
3 2Texans 74.42 18Cardinals44.58
4 5Colts 72.112029Bears 42.92
513tPackers 69.772130Browns 32.68
6 1Vikings 66.402224Raiders 30.61
712Cowboys 59.872319tEagles 30.58
8 9Lions 59.4324 4Chargers 29.96
913tRedskins 58.572525Rams 28.63
10 6Seahawks 56.952619tDolphins26.53
1122Jaguars 49.992721Giants 25.18
121549ers 49.012826Jets 16.28
1316Broncos 48.892917Bills 12.47
1427Bucs 47.853028Saints 5.78
1511Titans 45.773131Chiefs 5.05
16 8Panthers 45.393232Falcons 0.00

SEASON: 24-8 (75.0%)
(2006 through Week 1: 21-11, 65.6%)
(2005 through Week 1: 18-14, 56.3%)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Let's not go to the videotape

New England 38, San Diego 14

If you hear anyone say that they couldn't see this coming a mile away, then don't trust anything else you ever hear from them about the NFL, because they don't know their stuff. From almost the moment the story broke that the NFL was investigating the Patriots for videotaping opposing coaches during games, it was evident that the New England players were going to draw all the motivation they needed, and more, from the scandal. This is the team that in 2003 sustained a grudge for a full season after ESPN's Tom Jackson famously (and incorrectly) declared that "they hate their coach" following a 31-0 opening week loss to the Drew Bledsoe- and Lawyer Milloy-led Bills. This is also the team that two years ago stirred itself into a white-hot rage after Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer "disrespected" them by observing, after an easy 41-17 victory, that the Patriots sure had suffered a lot of injuries.

Someone was going to pay for the past week's negative publicity, and that someone wound up being the poor San Diego Chargers.

As word came out about the NFL's investigation, the news media did what it does best: churn out uninformed speculation, the seeming raison d'etre of the media in the 21st century. Initial reports from inside the Patriots locker room depicted the team as irritated that coach Bill Belichick had put them in this position and annoyed that they had to answer questions about the matter. Fair enough. From what we've been told so far, this scandal rests with the coaches, not with the players. The most popular question early on was: What will this do to Bill Belichick's reputation as a coaching genius? That's also a fair question, but of course no one took it far enough. No one asked: If Belichick is a cheater now, was he cheating when he designed the game plans that won two Super Bowls for Bill Parcells and got him to a third? Does this mean the other coaches on the Belichick tree -- among them Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini in the NFL and Charlie Weis, Kirk Ferentz, and Nick Saban in college -- are cheating, too? No one asked these questions because doing so would complicate what is supposed to be a simple morality play. Especially since Mangini is the one who ratted Belichick out.

It doesn't really matter, though, because very quickly, the question changed. Now, what was being asked was: Does this mean the Patriots' three Super Bowl titles are tainted? And for every player, coach or commentator who said "Yes," poor Philip Rivers took a kick in the head last night. That's because saying the Patriots cheated their way to three titles is saying that the Patriots players weren't good enought -- aren't good enough -- to win the Super Bowl on their own. Hearing that, Rodney Harrison, suspended as he is, may well have gone out in the street and clotheslined passers-by just for the release.

Sunday's pregame shows were full of opinions, of course, much of it sharply divided. Everybody condemned Belichick for what he had done -- no one disputes that he broke the rules and that the hammer should have come down hard -- but there was bitter disagreement within the studio crews over what the effects of Belichick's actions were. Coaches-turned-talking heads Jimmy Johnson and John Madden didn't think the Patriots got much of an edge. Keyshawn Johnson (who is proving himself far, far superior to Michael Irvin and is providing the kind of insight that Tiki Barber only wishes he could muster) said he seriously doubted that videotape gave the Patriots any kind of edge over the Rams, Panthers or Eagles in the Super Bowl, and he stuck to that belief even though I thought it was going to make Emmitt Smith cry. Jerome Bettis now believes that the Steelers had the 2004 AFC Championship Game stolen from them rather than choking it away the way they did the 1994, 1997 and 2001 AFC Championship Games. Terry Bradshaw and Chris Collinsworth both said Belichick will be branded a cheater now and for all time. Howie Long said some people hate Belichick so much that they were just lying in wait for something like this so they could blow it all out of proportion. And Peter King was shitting his pants and insisting that everyone smell it.

The shows quoted several current players as well. During one segment -- on, I think, ESPN -- we saw reactions from three players. First, Michael Strahan, who should know a little something about accomplishments tainted by chicanery, said the scandal makes you wonder whether the Patriots really earned their rings. LaDanian Tomlinson, who after a playoff loss last year picked a fight with the Pats to defend the honor of an admitted steroid user, said the Patriots must believe that "If you aren't cheating, you aren't trying." Donovan McNabb said he wondered if this means he's gonna get a Super Bowl ring, then laughed like he didn't mean it. Hey, you saw what happened to Tomlinson and the Chargers. McNabb's Eagles visit Foxboro for Sunday Night Football on Nov. 25. Strahan and the Giants host the Patriots in Week 17. Don't be surprised to see those quotes again.

Don't let all this make you think I'm defending Belichick. The guy broke the rules, he did it cavalierly, and he did it knowing that the new commissioner is a hanging judge. He got what was coming to him. But that doesn't mean I can't be sick of the story. Because I am sick of the story.

One thing I'm sick of is that every newspaper headline and every onscreen graphic is using some variation of the label "Patriot Games." This is the same label they've been using on every New England Patriots-related story since the movie came out 15 years ago. (The book came out 20 years ago, but headline writers generally aren't allowed to make pop culture references to books.) This story was crying out for the label "Illegal Patriot Act Surveillance," but that might have been a little thorny, as it would have only highlighted the fact that when the NFL catches you involved in illegal surveillance, it punishes you severely, but when Congress catches you involved in illegal surveillance, it rolls over and makes whatever you're doing legal, so long as you ask. And you don't even have to ask nicely.

Another thing I'm sick of is the constant references to the Patriots being caught "spying" on the New York Jets in the season's first week. "Spying" isn't illegal, never has been, and everyone -- everyone -- associated with the NFL acknowledges it openly. It's not only accepted; it's expected. In every game, both teams are trying to interpret the other's signals and gain an edge. If a defense hears the QB shout "Blue 38" before a draw play, they're going to be alert for the draw every time they hear "Blue 38." To paraphrase Tomlinson, if you ain't spying, you ain't trying. What New England was busted for was using video as part of their spying activities. If the Patriots had had a group of assistants watching the Jets coaches through binoculars and taking notes about all the signals they were sending in, that would have been perfectly legal. But they had a kid with a camcorder, and that's against the rules.

At least football people have been willing to admit that players and coaches try to steal the other team's signs. Sign-stealing has been going on in baseball since forever, and baseball people continue to be little girls about it. Every time a guy gets on second base, someone starts carping at the umpires that the guy is trying to steal signs. Of course he is. That's why you change your signs when there's a guy on second. Good God, ladies, get a hold of yourselves.

Belichick was quick to point out that the commissioner had acknowledged that the Patriots hadn't used the video to gain an edge in last week's game against the Jets. This led some of the dimmer bulbs on the tube to wonder what, then, was he going to use it for. Um, maybe the next game against the Jets, duh? This is why Belichick (allegedly) tried to assemble tape of every coach -- so that the next time the Patriots played aganst that coach, he'd look at the tape and try to decipher signals. Opposing coaches could counter this, of course, simply by changing their signals regularly. You'd think this would be obvious, right? Well, you'd think a lot of things that aren't necessarily so. Just think about Super Bowl XXXVII, during which the Raiders left intact much of their terminology even though their former coach -- the guy who had written the terminology -- was coaching the other team. No wonder the Buccaneers picked off five passes. Hell, if he really wanted to blow the other guy's mind, a coach could keep the same signals from one game to the next but strategically change what they mean. Imagine if Mangini had gone this route. He could have goaded the Patriots into throwing into triple coverage or something, or gotten them to run when they should have passed. He could have used his inside knowledge of the Pats' videotaping strategy to win games for his team rather than to just make his old boss look bad.

It isn't just Belichick who's been videotaping the oppostion from the sideline. Peter King estimates that seven to ten teams have been doing it. Some of the Sunday talking heads made similar assertions, and there's no real reason to dispute it. The question that really intrigues me, however, is why Belichick felt compelled to do it. On ESPN's pregame show, Chris Berman mentioned Watergate, which strikes me as the most apt comparison. The Nixon White House didn't have to break into Democratic Party headquarters, or order tax audits of its enemies, or use the FBI for political ends, to ensure victory in the 1972 election. George McGovern's campaign was self-destructing all by itself. But Nixon and friends were paranoid and insecure and wanted every possible weapon at their disposal, whether they needed it or not. So it was with Belichick. I'd be frankly surprised if he even used the tape, but it was there if he needed it, which was the whole point.

And what of the penalties handed down by the league? The loss of one or more draft picks, plus a $500,000 fine for Belichick and $250,000 for the Patriots: Too harsh? Too lenient? I'm not going to argue with the severity (or lack of it). I will, however, question the conditional nature of the draft-pick penatly. If the Pats make the playoffs, they lose a first-round pick. If they don't, they lose second- and third-round picks. Why the difference? Punishment is supposed to fit the crime, not the criminal's ultimate gain. If it's illegal to videotape opposing coaches, then it's illegal regardless of whether the tape helps you get to the playoffs. Back in 2002, when the Buccaneers had to pay compensation to the Raiders for tampering with their coach, the penalty was two first-round picks and two second-round picks, regardless of how well the Bucs went on to play under the coach. (They did quite well; see above.) So it should be with the Pats.

Ultimately, the commissioner, Roger Goodell, acted when he did because he wanted to send a message and redirect fans' attention back to the games. All week, we were asked rhetorically whether the scandal would prove to be a "distraction" for the Patriots. Oh, it was a distraction, all right -- for just about everybody but the Patriots. After Sunday's games, every player and coach was asked about the story. The commissioner was grilled about it on national TV by Bob Costas. Peter King stormed about the NBC set demanding that everyone look at what a big dump he'd taken in his pants. And the San Diego Chargers -- the poor San Diego Chargers -- got the worst of it.

NBC's Andrea Kremer, in addition to reporting on various leaks from senior NFL officials (nice, tight ship you run there, Goodell), explained that Chargers coach Norv Turner was so freaked out by the "spying" that he was slamming the barn door shut long after the horse had gone, even though it was neither his barn nor his horse. Kremer reported that Turner usually gives his offense the script for the first 15 plays the night before the game, but this week he waited until the morning of the game. The script is usually distributed in printed form; this week it was delivered orally. And before the game at Foxboro, Turner ordered the Chargers' locker room closed and wouldn't allow attendants in. So, before one of the biggest games of the year, against one of the best teams in the league, Turner upended his team's routine and played right into the very paranoia that Belichick might have been trying to seed.

The Patriots, loosey-goosey and highly motivated by a week's worth of perceived insults, came out and utterly dismantled the rudderless, tight Chargers. During the game, NBC ran video of San Diego QB Rivers saying that Chargers-Patriots has become something of a "rivalry game." Sorry, Philip, but a hammer and a nail don't have a rivalry.. This is a rivalry in the way the Colts and Patriots had a rivalry before Indianapolis finally won in New England in 2005: The Patriots always won, and the Colts always stewed over it. Perhaps Rivers will inherit from Payton Manning the coveted "Can't-Beat-the-Pats" mantle.

So the Patriots are off and running. Seeing the way they mobbed their coach after last night's game, they've pulled enough "disrespect" out of this episode to sustain them for the rest of the year, and maybe into 2008. Last night Madden said he was pretty certain that there would be no funny business from the Patriots for the ret ofthe year. Of course not. They're on a mission to prove they can win "clean."

The Jets play at New England on Dec. 16.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

KingWatch: Keystone Korrespondent

Extremely busy with work, so we'll have to be quick about the latest edition of Monday Morning Quarterback. Herewith, The 5 Dumbest Things Peter King Said This Week:

1. King referred to the Broncos' last-second dash to get the kicking unit onto the field and hit the winning kick as a "keystone-cops field goal." First of all, you have to capitalize Keystone Cops, because it's a reference to the series of slapstick films produced by Mack Sennett back in the 1910s. There is no generic "keystone cop" walking a beat somewhere. More important, the defining characteristic of the Keystone Cops was that they were incompetent buffoons who couldn't do anything right. What Denver pulled off in the closing seconds Sunday in Buffalo was anything but bumbling. Just because people are running around madly doesn't mean they don't know what they're doing. Call it a fire-drill field goal, if you must, but "keystone-cops" field goal is just wrong. And stupid.

2. King went on to say about the Denver-Buffalo game: "Amazing finish. I don't remember the last time I saw a finish of a game decided by a field goal that I'd call exciting." Gee. How about Adam Vinatieri beating the Panthers as time ran out in Super Bowl XXXVIII? Or Vinatieri beating the Rams as time ran out in Super Bowl XXXVI? Or Vinatieri beating the Raiders as time ran out in the snow in the playoffs two weeks before that? Those are just three off the top of my head, I'm not even an NFL insider! More proof to back up my wife's suspicion that King has interns write most of this column.

3. In placing Denver at No. 8 in his weekly ranking of "The Fine Fifteen," King declares that Jay Culter "had a nice opener ... but he'll be challenged more with the physical D's of Oakland and Jacksonville coming up." Well, Oakland just gave up 36 points and 400 yards to the Detroit Lions. As for Jacksonville, just five spots lower in King's rankings, he notes that the Jaguars defensive front was "pushed around and surrender[ed] 282 rushing yards" to the Titans. If you're going to hold up a team's defense as dangerous, it helps if they don't prove themselves so toothless in game action that you yourself are forced to point it out.

4. Reacting to Ellis Hobbs's 108-yard kickoff return, Kings asks of the Jets: "How do you let someone take a ball eight yards deep in the end zone and let him run it back for a touchdown -- without any real challenges along the way?" He seems far more surprised than he should be. If anyone is going to catch a kickoff coverage team by surprise, it's the guy who's bringing out a ball that he has no business trying to return -- like a kickoff eight yards deep in the end zone.

Hobbs's return tied the record for the longest touchdown in NFL history. That record is shared by two Bears, Devin Hester and Nathan Vasher, both of whom brought back missed field goals 108 yards. They were able to do so because they caught the kicking team with its pants down. Usually a team doesn't even try to return missed field goals, so as Vasher (in 2005) and Hester (in 2006) were heading upfield, the other teams were heading to the sidelines. It isn't just kick returns, either. When Vasher scored his touchdown, he broke the old longest-TD record of 106 yards, which was set by Baltimore's Ed Reed on an interception return against Cleveland in 2004. With less than an minute to go and the Ravens leading 20-13, the Browns were driving for the tying score when Reed intercepted Jeff Garcia six yards deep in the end zone. The Browns assumed that Reed would just take a knee for the touchback, and then the Ravens would run out the clock. As the Cleveland players walked dejectedly off the field, Reed took off and scored, untouched.

So when Hobbs got the ball eight yards deep, it's not exactly unbelievable that the Jets let their guard down, however momentarily. In the NFL, a couple seconds of indecision is the difference between a routine tackle and a game-breaking play. I'm not excusing the Jets coverage team for letting Hobbs run wild. They didn't do their jobs, and I'm sure they'll be running laps all week. But King asked "How do you let that happen?" And I respond: The same way the 49ers let it happen with Vasher, the Giants let it happen with Hester and the Browns let it happen with Reed. I understand him not remembering that Super Bowl four long years ago. But Hester's return just happened last November. Once again, it falls to me to offer the analysis that King can't or won't provide.

5. Finally, one of King's non-football thoughts of the week is ... "I don't understand Fashion Week." Well, I'd venture to guess that Tim Gunn might not understand why people camp outside stores all night to get the latest edition of Madden. Big fucking deal. I can imagine 80% of King's readers don't even know what Fashion Week is, and that's totally cool. Different strokes for different folks. What King is doing is tiptoeing terribly close to the habitat of Elitist ignoramus. You know the species: They're the ones who look at any culture-type assemblage (such as Fashion Week), and sneer that the people involved in it "think they're better" because they're so cultured and highfalutin'. And in fact it is these observers who think they're better because they aren't highfalutin'. It's a depressing but very real streak in society. If someone says to you, "You think you're better because you're X," always respond, "No, I don't, but clearly you think you're better because you're not X."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Week 1: Nothing but crap on TV

In years past, I've recapped every single game in every week of the regular season. I did a lot of that writing during my down time at work. Now, however, I'm self-employed and work at home, which means I can't afford "down time." So I don't know if I'll have the time or energy to do the game-by-game thing this year. But I can still hit the highlights from a weekend's worth of sitting slack-jawed in front of the TV, in which I came out of my trance only long enough to keep my son away from the fireplace, fix a sandwich or use the facilities.

The results from Week 1 of our picks league have been posted, and guess who had the best week of all? The only wrong picks I made were Atlanta over Minnesota, St. Louis over Carolina, and Philadelphia over Green Bay. I don't think 13-3 is too shabby.

The biggest game of the weekend, obviously, was Thursday's opener, Indianapolis vs. New Orleans. We've already covered Saints quarterback Jason David's terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day in this post. And when I say the topic was "covered," I mean we stood there staring into the backfield as the topic ran past us to the end zone.

The next-biggest game was clearly Chicago at San Diego. Now, If I'm the owner of the San Diego Chargers, I have a couple of things to be pissed about, despite the fact that my team won. One of them is that every time I looked down to my sideline, I saw Norv Turner there. The other is that even after I spent all that money and effort to build a team that last year finished with the best record in the NFL, half my season-ticket holders still sold their seats to Bears fans. The season opener! Nothing's going to make you stink up your luxury box quite like discovering that the crowd in your own stadium is cheering after you fumbled the ball away on the goal line.

Speaking of that fumble, the replay clearly showed that the Chargers messed up the center-QB exchange because Tommie Harris had launched himself across the line before the ball was even snapped. Philip Rivers practically shit his pants trying to get the officials to look at the replay on the JumboTron, but the only screen they're allowed to look at is the one in the little replay room on the sidelines. And unfortunately, offsides penalties -- or the lack of them -- are not reviewable. And that's ridiculous. Look, I get why most penalties aren't subject to replay review (illegal touching and illegal participation are among those that are). It's because the definitions of most penalties are fluid. Sometimes when you put your hand on a receiver's back, it's interference; other times it's not. It all depends on what the official sees and how it fits into his conception of what constitutes a flaggable infraction. But offsides is not one of those penalties. There is a simple, objective definition: Did the defender cross the line of scrimmage before the snap? If he did, then he's offside. There's no gray area. It should have been reviewable. In the end, God made up for it by bouncing a punt off one of the Bears and giving the Chargers great field position. No wonder why players are always thanking God.

Ultimately, though, I'm just thrilled that the Bears-Chargers game was available locally. I get the Sunday Ticket but retain an academic interest in what games the network affiliates choose to show. When I lived in Washington for nine years, we of course got the Redskins every week, and we usually got the Ravens, too, because Baltimore was just up the road. I think it was the Ravens that finally drove me to get DirecTV. Now I live in Iowa, which doesn't have an NFL team, and that means the affiliates are free to choose whatever game they want. The local Fox channel aired the Bears-Chargers game -- but not because it was a good matchup. Rather, it was because they always show the Bears, because Des Moines is "close" to Chicago. It's also "close" to Minneapolis (close being a relative term in the Midwest), so for the early game we got Falcons at Vikings.

Something possessed me to pick the Falcons to win this one. As I explained earlier, I was thinking that all the controversy around Michael Vick and his non-traditional hobbies would leave the team with a big chip on its shoulder, and that they'd take out their frustration on the Vikings. Also, I was just hoping that something nice would happen to Joey Harrington, a good guy if not a great football player. As it turned out, two of Harrington's passes went the other way for touchdowns, and the Falcons defense appeared to be totally mailing it in (parcel post, not first class). The Falcons' incompetence and indifference made it possible for Minnesotans to feel the slightest bit optimistic about the Tarvaris Jackson era. They shouldn't. Here's Jackson's line from Sunday's game: 13-of-23 for 163 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, and a passer rating of 75.1. Eh. Not great, but not bad, right? Now let's take out one play -- the swing pass that Jackson threw behind Adrian Peterson, but which Peterson tipped to himself before ripping off a highlight-reel 60-yard touchdown. Without that one play, which had nothing to do with the QB, Jackson's rating sinks to 48.3. That stinks no matter how much postage you put on it.

I'll be surprised if the Tarvaris Jackson Project lasts the year. Here's the problem: There's nothing wrong with drafting a Division I-AA quarterback, even if no one else appears to want him. But you should never trade up to the second round to draft a Division I-AA quarterback whom no one else appears to want. And even if you do that, for God's sake, don't make him your starter without making him earn the job. Jackson didn't beat out Brad Johnson last year; he just happened to be standing there with a clipboard when Johnson finally ran out of spare parts. He didn't come into the league with the tools to be an NFL starter; by making him one before he acquired those tools, the Vikings have actually hampered his development.

Don't look now, but toward the end of preseason, the Vikings picked up Kelly Holcomb, the Human Quarterback Controversy. Holcomb may be a swell guy, but his very presence on the bench destabilized Tim Couch in Cleveland and nearly did the same to J.P. Losman in Buffalo. The only guy he has backed up whom he didn't cause trouble for was Peyton Manning -- and the Colts were smart enough to unload Holcomb at the end of Manning's rookie year. Brad Childress, good luck with this mess you've made for yourself.

The fact that Falcons-Vikings was on TV here was bad enough. But the worst affiliate pick of the week, hands-down, was the local CBS channel's decision to pass on Patriots-Jets, Titans-Jaguars, even Steelers-Browns, and instead give us Kansas City at Houston. You don't need to have watched all six episodes of this year's Hard Knocks to understand that the Chiefs are going to be a very bad team, but, boy, does it help. They tried to give the starting quarterback job to Brodie Croyle, but he wouldn't take it, so it went back to Damon Huard, who last year did really well in his first action as a starter in nine years in the NFL. Of course, now that teams finally have a season's worth of film on Huard, he'll be relatively easy to stop, which Houston did quite well. The Texans, of course, know from basket cases. They've been one for most of their brief existence. They're 1-0 now, though. and they're hoping that if you squint really hard, you won't notice just why that is.

Seeing K.C.-Houston on the TV schedule here made me realize that if Fox's late game had been, say, Dallas at San Diego, the Des Moines affiliate would have given us Detroit at Oakland. Or worse, Tampa Bay at Seattle. Because Detroit is sort of in the Midwest! And the Buccaneers ... used to be in the NFC Central ... and used to play the Bears and Vikings and Packers every year! I actually watched a bit of both of these games. There's nothing good to say. Detroit finally reaches the top of the NFC North -- and has to share the view. And, is Tampa Bay still in the league anymore? It's like they fell off the face of the Earth.

Thanks to the dish, though, I caught all of New England at N.Y. Jets. Everyone's seen all the highlights -- Randy Moss running, Chad Pennington hopping -- but what really got me was the way Moss was moving. The guy looks like he's had a thousand-pound weight taken off his shoulders. He just seems absolutely thrilled that he doesn't have to be The Man anymore. (Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln and Green Lantern could all sign with the Patriots, and none of them would come close to being The Man.) All Moss has to do is run and jump and trust that the ball is going to be there when he looks for it. For two years in Oakland, it never was. He's playing for a first-class organization, not one that's falling apart (Minnesota) or in permanent disarray (Oakland). And he's playing for a coach who brooks no bullshit rather than one who coddles him fearfully (Dennis Green, Mike Tice) or just stares off into space (Norv Turner, Art Shell).

A while back (I'm too lazy to find the link), I argued that the most boring games in the NFL are those that end with scores of 13-10 and 16-13. Even when those games go right down to the wire, with a field goal at the gun, they're ultimately boring, because a team that wins a game 13-10 or 16-13 is not usually a team that's going anywhere. Maybe it's the aftereffects of all those years in D.C. watching Redskins fans get ecstatic over a 14-12 victory, only to plummet back to Earth the next week on the heels of a 35-13 ass-wiping. Anyway, three games finished with such boring scores this weekend: Miami at Washington (Redskins, 16-13 in OT); Philadelphia at Green Bay (Packers, 16-13); and Tennessee at Jacksonville, (Titans, 13-10). A fourth game, Denver at Buffalo came close score-wise, but you could hardly call that game boring. After the horrific injury to Kevin Everett (hopefully not as bad as initially thought), you realize that "boring" is not necessarily always a bad thing. Plus, there were those last-second heroics oddly attributed to Jason Elam. You tell me how you can be an unconditional hero after missing a game winning field goal, then getting a second chance only because your teammates are able to set up for a kick in an almost impossibly short span of time.

Sunday night is football night. You laughed at me for taking the over at 78 points for the N.Y. Giants at Dallas. Who's the dickhead now, eh? New Cowboys coach Wade Phillips looks so much like my dad that it's going to be painful watching Terrell Owens and the Usual Gang of Idiots crush his spirit -- like when Tony Romo capped an otherwise brilliant game Sunday by briefly "making things interesting" in the fourth quarter.

Rounding out the weekend was an AFC North family reunion. Baltimore at Cincinnati featured various Ravens and Bengals stepping on their own dicks, while Pittsburgh at Cleveland featured all the Steelers kicking all the Browns in the balls. I watched Arizona at San Francisco at the gym, and for all the talk about Ken Whisenhunt bringing all that Pittsburgh-style discipline to the Cardinals, half the time they couldn't do anything right.

This space left blank to write your own synopsis of Carolina at St. Louis.

Now it's time for what we've ALL been waiting for! The return of Down and Distance's almost completely arbitrary, mostly inscrutable and increasingly unreliable KA-POWER RANKINGS. Once upon a time KA-POW was among the most reliable ranking systems out there. The past couple years, with all the crazy shit that's gone down in the playoffs, have taken a toll on our system, but it's done the same to everyone else, too. So screw it. Let's get rankin'.

Down and Distance's exclusive KA-POWER RANKINGS are back for their third year. The product of a simple formula, the rankings have predicted 10 of the last 17 Super Bowl winners. Further, 14 of the last 17 Super Bowl winners finished the regular season No. 1 or No. 2 in the KA-POWER RANKINGS system. Unlike with other, lesser rating systems, no opinion is involved in formulating these rankings. None. Teams are ranked on a centigrade scale, with 100 representing the NFL's strongest team and 0 its weakest. Don't like where your team is ranked? Blame science. (Key: WK1 = This week's ranking. F06 = final 2006 ranking. POW = KAPOW-ER centigrade score)
122Vikings 100.001717Bills 52.22
228Texans 97.521826Cardinals47.78
311Steelers 92.331919Dolphins44.79
4 4Chargers 91.60 8Eagles 43.35
5 9Colts 89.082116Giants 41.96.
615Seahawks 84.6222 5Jaguars 41.61
7 3Patriots 79.6723 1Ravens 40.43
821Panthers 72.502432Raiders 33.08
927Lions 66.922518Rams 27.50
1010Bengals 59.572612Jets 20.33
1125Titans 58.392731Bucs 15.38
12 7Cowboys 58.0428 6Saints 10.92
1324Redskins 56.6529 2Bears 8.40
23Packers 56.653030Browns 7.67
152949ers 55.213113Chiefs 2.48
1614Broncos 52.223220Falcons 0.00

SEASON: 13-3 (81.3%)
(2006 through Week 1: 9-7, 56.3%)
(2005 through Week 1: 9-7, 56.3%)