Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Same old Cardinals... 

Six weeks into the season and we've gotta talk about it. Well, I do. 10-3 straight up on picks, but only 7-6 vs the spread.

Wow, last night's Monday Night Football game was the game of the year, perhaps for all the wrong reasons. Unless you're a Bears' fan, that is. Arizona, who if not for them being "Arizona" should've been 3-2 (now, 4-2) entering the night instead of 1-4, pulled off the unthinkable. Up 23-3 with 10 seconds left in the 3rd quarter, they managed to lose 24-23. But wait! During that comeback, Chicago never scored an offensive touchdown and Rex Grossman turned the ball over six times. 4 Rex Grossman interceptions + 2 Rex Grossman fumbles = everyone in the country jumped the gun (for no apparent reason, it seems) on the Bears being the best team of the century. Chicago was able to overcome one near-fatal Grossman blunder against Minnesota, but six?!? When the rookie, Hester, returned a punt for the go-ahead score to make it 24-23, I was laughing so hard. Of course this happens to the Cardinals. They're the Cardinals. They've never played with a 20-point lead before. They've proven time and again that they don't know how to finish games. While the Hester punt return for a TD had me in hysterics, the missed chip-shot of a field goal by Neil Rackers, which would've won the game for AZ, had me in stunned silence. Wow. Words cannot describe this team's futility. Losing in Oakland may be in the air, but in Arizona, it's in the blood. And holy crap, the two play each other next week! Must-see-TV. A couple points about last night's game:

1) Matt Leinart looks like an All-Pro. I've been on the Leinart bandwagon for some time, now, firmly of the belief that he'll be a stud in the pros. I just didn't expect him to look so good just two starts into his career. This with a terrible offensive line (there isn't a fan in the country, right now, who doesn't know the name, "Oliver Ross," the offensive tackle who is almost single-handedly responsible for letting the Bears back into the game) and absolutely no running game. None! Edgerrin James averaged less than two yards a carry last night. LESS THAN TWO! Do you know how pathetic that is? My grandmother could do better than that and she's dead! All this, plus Leinart didn't have Larry Fitzgerald available to him last night and he still performed well. If not for the missed Rackers chippy, we'd all be singing his praises as the second coming, right now. The kid is phenomenal. He's going to be a star -- even if he stays in AZ.

2) I took great pleasure, last night, in seeing the Bears exposed like they were. Everyone and their mailman had the Bears penciled in to win the next five Superbowls because they could rack up 40 points on Buffalo and beat a Seattle team whose defense is average and was without Shaun Alexander. And, oh yeah, anyone who beats the Packers and Lions, this year, is untouchable. My point is, Chicago hasn't really been tested and last night, they showed how drunk they were on everyone's praise. Now, the showed the mark of a good team, by coming back to win. But how good are they? If anything, Rex Grossman brought everyone about six pegs down by reminding the world that he is not the flawless QB who is above making silly mistakes. Hell, Kyle Orton looked better all of last season than Grossman did last night. The Arizona defense isn't gangbusters, either. Look for Chicago to bump up to 8-0 before falling in week 10 against the Giants in New York. If Chicago has to play like the team that won last year without a QB and bombed out in the playoffs, then the results won't be any different this time around. Every online poll was asking which NFC team will be good enough to face Chicago in the NFC title game. I wonder, will Chicago even get that far? Take your heads out of your rectums, folks. We're only a third of the way in.

Moving on to the rest of the league, the team I tabbed as the NFC's best (and I'm sticking to it) has been quietly riding a five-game win streak since opening 0-2. The Carolina Panthers, provided Steve Smith stays healthy, are the team to beat in the NFC. Not the Saints, who have overshadowed their division rivals so far, but the Panthers.

Speaking of New Orleans, it goes without saying that they're the surprise of the league thus far. Drew Brees' performance is a complete and pleasant surprise -- overcoming shoulder surgery and adapting quickly with a new team, turning them into a decent club. And while Reggie Bush has only one touchdown this season, make no mistake that just like his USC teammate in Arizona, Bush's presence alone makes the Saints a better football team. The offense is completely opened up and with a competent quarterback at the helm, the Saints will be competitive for the rest of the season. I've made the comparison that Houston drafting Mario Williams ahead of Reggie Bush is like the Portland Trailblazers drafting Sam Bowie ahead of Michael Jordan and have, on occassion, been met with criticism for it. To say that Portland didn't need Michael Jordan because they already had Clyde Drexler doesn't hold water with me. Hell, did the Saints need Reggie Bush? Deuce McAllister is having an excellent season and is an elite running back when healthy. But is New Orleans better for having him? Unquestionably.

People have the nerve to be surprised at how well Donovan McNabb is playing this season. How freaking short are the talking heads' memories, I wonder? Are you kidding me? McNabb was physically broken last season, so we should just forget his amazing track record before then? The guy is on pace for one of the most amazing statistical seasons in NFL history and I, for one, am rooting for him. By the way, Eagles and Giants on top in the NFC East with Dallas chasing and Washington struggling? Yeah, I remember saying that back in August.

I should probably reiterate that any venom I'm spewing regarding the NFL is directed squarely at the national media and any yahoo jackass who calls into local sports radio, only to parrot what he's heard on SportsCenter. "The Bears are unbeatable," "Why are the Eagles good," another that's been sticking in my craw this season is, "What's wrong with Pittsburgh?" For crying out loud, the answer is "nothing." Let's see how many other teams come through a stretch of Jacksonville, Cincinnati (before their wheels began falling off), and San Diego 0-3. I bet it'd be most. Big Ben Motorcycle is getting better with each game and needed to feast on Kansas City the way he did Sunday. But here's the thing with Ben: he has never proven in his NFL career that he can be the guy to lead an offense to victory by throwing 50 times a game. Never. He has proven that he is capable of guiding an offense that relies heavily on the running game and minimizes mistakes. That much, he can manage. But with Jerome Bettis retired, Duce Staley's health a constant question mark, and the coaching staff lacking confidence to give Willie Parker 30 carries a game, guess what? The whole philosophy of the offense changes. And with that, you can expect some growing pains. So, a brutal early schedule + a new way of offense with a recovering QB = still a good football team. The Steelers will be fine.

I glossed over Cincinnati beginning to fall apart. They need to right the ship immediately to bar a major slide. The offense can get yardage all day, but is suddenly struggling to score points. The defense is lacking in personel either through injury (David Pollack may never play football again) or for legal issues (Odell Thurman is a year away from prison). You have to trust that Marvin Lewis will flex his coaching muscles to somehow keep the Bengals in playoff contention down the stretch.

There is no "best team" in the league. Or rather, no single dominant team that stands head and shoulders above the rest. We saw all the reasons why Chicago is not that team, last night. The Chargers (whom I'd rate #1, right now, if pressed) stumbled in their first challenge of the season to Baltimore. But last I checked, Marty Schottenheimer was still the head coach, so you know a Superbowl isn't in the cards this year. Indianapolis? Which is more inspiring of confidence A) the narrow escapes against the Jets and Houston during their last two games b) their total lack of a running game c) the innate knowledge that they'll fold again in the playoffs?

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